Mentor, Ohio October 11, 1996 – Hands of many different colors and creeds have clasped together to develop the first ever international space station. The cooperative effort has teamed Russia, Japan, Canada, Europe and the United States together to develop living quarters for year-round stay in space, equipped with everything from high tech scientific tools for space study to workout equipment for leisure activity.
At one and a half football fields in length, it will be the largest manned object ever sent into space. In fact, because of its enormous size, component modules (each the size of a typical school bus) must be pre-fabricated and spun into orbit individually. As each new component arrives in space, it is linked with the existing components.
It goes without saying that the scope of this project is immense. Within the United States alone, over 550 companies have been contributors in the U.S. National effort and include the lead contractor, Boeing, as well as McDonnell Douglas, Rockwell and Lockheed. These contractors have in turn, solicited and relied upon the contributions of manufacturers to brainstorm and design solutions for the intricate challenges they faced.
For example, each component module has just over a 4 foot square access-opening making it difficult to install the interior panels. Like trying to install a new radiator through the grill on the front of a car, the challenge of limited access led Boeing engineers to Air Technical Industries (ATI).
A manufacturer of specialty material handling equipment, ATI designed a uniquely modified version of their RBC-6000-SPB self-propelled floor crane that could meet the challenge. “We needed to be creative yet practical in respect of Boeing’s budgetary and timeline boundaries” says Design Engineer, Pete Novak Jr. of ATI. “What we developed was the perfect solution. We designed a Mobile Crane that stands over 13′ tall with a powered telescopic boom that extends over 19′ in length to reach well into a module, and can lift vertically to 30′.”
In addition, a cable lift was used to pick up panels from ground level and carefully lift them to align with the access opening for installation in the interior of the module. The design of the crane was engineered to be extremely maneuverable with 180 degrees steering for precise positioning of the interior panels during their installation.
When asked how such a feat was accomplished, Novak explained “The international space station is a testament to the idea that where there’s a will there’s a way. Our 33 year history of success was founded on this premise. I guess that made us the perfect fit for the application.”
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