Fast-paced in both business and pleasure, Link-Belt enjoys life in the fast lane, reports Eric C. Peterson.
In work or play, the Link-Belt Construction Equipment Co. of Lexington, Ky., always hits the ground running. Take its sponsorship on the NASCAR Busch Grand National racing circuit, for example. The maker of telescopic and lattice boom cranes has its name on the side of a car piloted by exciting young driver Wayne Grubb — he’s in the #83 Link-Belt Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Grubb Motorsports. Grubb and Link-Belt are decidedly in the fast lane, competing in the full Busch Grand National Series.
But in the world of manufacturing, that high-profile sponsorship translates into Link-Belt as a fast-track company intent upon producing cutting-edge cranes for a wide variety of uses. Indeed, Link-Belt recently used the prestigious 1999 CONEXPO/CON-AGG show in Las Vegas to introduce seven new cranes. At the show, the company provided live demonstrations of the latest advances in crane design and technology.
In the rough terrain (RT) crane market, for example, Link-Belt rolled out the new 30-ton Series II crane with two boom options (three- section, 78-foot and four section, 91-foot). Both options have a full power boom and a bifold swing-around extension. A new 40-ton Series II crane, meanwhile, has a standard boom length of 105 feet with a 51-foot bifold swing-around attachment.
More New Models
A third new RT crane has a 70-ton capacity with 127 feet of standard boom, according to John Claflin, vice president of sales, marketing and product support. Both Series II RT cranes offer such new features as a ladder-bar suspension system for faster travel speeds and greater operator comfort, direct mount transmissions, electronic shift transmissions, external light bars and flat-deck carriers.
“People left our display area in Las Vegas saying, ‘This is what the future of RT cranes is going to look like,’” says Pat Collins, crane product manager.
Link-Belt also made its return to the big crawler crane market at the Las Vegas show with its introduction of a 250-ton capacity unit, while also introducing a redesigned crawler crane. The LS-278H hy-draulic lattice boom craw-ler features 330 feet of main boom or 300 feet of boom, plus a 100-foot jib. Other features include all-hydraulic controls, remote counterweight removal system and a state-of-the-art operator’s cab powered by a 440-hp. Cummins engine.
Many New Features
And the redesigned LS-138H II has an increased base rating of 80 tons, in-creased tubular boom of 190 feet, increased tubular jib of 60 feet and new features, such as a counterweight removal system, pin-on boom hoist bail and a simplified mid-point suspension system. It also offers wider and longer lower sideframes, which retract to 11 feet, 11 inches.
At the same show, Link-Belt also introduced a new telescopic truck crane featuring the latest technological advancements. It has the longest standard boom in the three-axle truck class (105 feet, with a bifold attachment), a flat-deck carrier, hand-held outrigger controls and no “fly deduct” capacities. The HTC-8640’s engine provides enough power to merge into highway traffic and cruise at 65 mph, according to Collins.
These days, Link-Belt is focusing completely on its core business — cranes. Until late last year it was fully involved in the excavating machine business as well. Then, parent company Sumitomo Construction Machinery Co. of Japan formed a global alliance with the Case Corp. to establish LBX Co. to market Link-Belt branded excavators throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Link-Belt’s excavator business was spun off as the LBX Co., which holds the North American manufacturing rights for Sumitomo-designed excavator models. Initially, Sumitomo in Japan and Link-Belt in the United States will make and supply excavators to LBX; but they expect to set up a separate manufacturing headquarters in the near future.
Which puts Link-Belt on track to retain its posi-tion as one of the world’s top makers of cranes. The recent product announcements in Las Vegas are a clear sign that Link-Belt aims to stay in the fast lane when it comes to the crane business.
In terms of product and corporate philosophy, “We pursue a course of ‘continuous innovation,’” explains Claflin. The focus is on designing originals that improve the reliability and performance of the company’s products.
Advanced, high-speed computer-aided designs (CAD) are measured by their performance “through extensive testing and re-testing before we even endorse a new idea,” says Dan Quinn, vice president, manufacturing. “That assures real user value and maximum on-the-job performance.”
Link-Belt’s designers also focus on the details — the little things that can make its cranes more user-friendly. For example, most of its units have large grab handles and steps to increase accessibility to carrier deck areas and engines for routine maintenance and service. Safety strips on deck tops and fenders provide non-slip surfaces for maintenance personnel. And in the new Series II hydraulic RT cranes, oversized storage compartments with key locking hatches are standard (to hold tools, slings, etc.) The term that keeps popping up is “value-added features.”
Nor do cab areas have to be hard and merely functional. Operators can find comfort in such features as six-way adjustable fabric seats and height-adjustable armrests, plus hydraulic control levers and many control innovations. The control cab in the RTC-8065 crane, for example, offers everything from a solid fiber composite cab with carpet-type insulation and backlighted gauges, to an overhead console and ducted air through automotive-style directional vents. And Link-Belt has developed what it calls the Confined Area Lifting Capacities system, or CALC™. Designed to allow contractors to operate in confined work areas where full outrigger extension isn’t possible, the system provides operators with three outrigger positions — full extension, intermediate and fully retracted.
“Outriggers can be extended to an intermediate position where working areas are limited,” Collins explains. “Lifts can be made with outriggers fully retracted. In the fully re-tracted outrigger mode, lift capacities are significantly improved over the ‘on tires’ configurations.”
Finally, Link-Belt offers “The Boss,” a patented boom design featuring embossed sidewall stiffeners with no-weld corners. The arrangement of high-strength angle chords (corners) with high-formability steel sidewall embossments places the most steel at the corners, where maximum stress is concentrated. Stresses are naturally and uniformly transferred to the corners. The concept was derived from Link-Belt’s lattice boom technology.
Indeed, more than two decades and thousands of hydraulic crane booms later, the patented design remains unchanged. It was before its time and is still state-of-the-art.
Total Quality Through “Lean Manufacturing”
To stay on the manufacturing fast track, Link-Belt initiated various total quality projects in the early 1990s, one of which is “lean manufacturing.”
Lean manufacturing is a philosophy, which shortens the time between the placement of a customer’s order and the shipment of the product through elimination of waste. The foundation of lean manufacturing is standardization of work and employee empowerment followed by the basic framework of Just-In-Time (JIT) inventories, continuous improvement and quality at the source.
Link-Belt worked in conjunction with the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Co. and the University of Kentucky’s College of Engineering to set up a ‘lean manufacturing process’ that took advantage of proven manufacturing processes. Before the change, Link-Belt operated with the philosophy of large lot quantities, large inventories and long lead times. The Lean Manufacturing concept was chosen as a benchmark to restructure the production system.
During this same period, management decided that a company wide quality control system was an essential cornerstone for all future improvements. As a result, Link-Belt embarked on an aggressive program to significantly reduce the variance in daily operations. After thousands of hours of training and investigation, cross-functional teams were established with members from all major functional areas of the company. As a result, Link-Belt passed the extensive, four-day audit on the first try and earned ISO 9001 certification.
Lean manufacturing, innovative new features and state-of-the-art designs very much reflect Link-Belt’s commitment to being the best. And that holds true whether the company is making cranes for a wide variety of industrial uses or putting its name on the side of a high-powered auto in the rough-and-tumble world of NASCAR racing.