Tall Order

Features - Feature

High-reach material handlers help dismantle a building that used to host NASA space shuttles.

October 13, 2010

As if to put an exclamation point on the government’s decision to halt the U.S. space shuttle program, the demolition of a prominent structure associated with that program is under way at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). When operational, the building, known as the Vertical Processing Facility (VPF) was used to assemble full payload packages destined for space.

Those packages (anything from satellites to replacement components) were then transferred to and loaded onto the shuttle itself. Having already been replaced by a newer, larger VPF, the building’s demolition was inevitable.

Now, the task of bringing down a piece of history is being headed up by Melbourne, Fla.-based Frank-Lin Excavating, acting as a subcontractor to Speegle Construction of Cocoa Beach, Fla. And, like the shuttle itself, the manner in which they are doing so is both innovative and impressive: calling on a lot of machine (a demo-configured Caterpillar 365C), a lot of reach (130-feet, courtesy of a Jewell front end) and a lot of processing power from a Genesis GXP 200R mobile shear.

At nearly 13 stories high and better than 10,000 square feet in area, the VPF is not your run-of-the-mill structure and, as such, demanded a special approach to bringing it down. According to Pete Charamut, Frank-Lin’s president and project manager, alternatives were explored before choosing the route they took.

“We considered everything including the most basic approach: using a crane with a headache ball,” he says. “But in a case like that, you are talking about smashing the building, sending all the outside material crashing to the ground to expose the beams. Then we would be faced with burning the beams, lowering them to the ground, rigging and lifting them for load out. You are talking about three times the time, three times the cost; it would be a whole different type of project.”

Charamut says they had dismantled other structures at KSC using a high reach and a larger Genesis LXP 300 processor. Having seen how quickly and safely those projects went, NASA was quickly on board with their approach. With a plan nailed down, the company contacted Mike Schulz at the Summerville, S.C. office of Kuhn Equipment Sales to put together a rental agreement for the demolition package they needed.

Before demolition could begin, Charamut’s crew spent four weeks inside the VPF structure, cutting and packaging up a range of equipment and materials that they had acquired as part of the contract.

“When we won the bid, we took control of everything inside,” he says. “That includes electronics; a heat-sensor camera system; a lot of MCC (motor control center) panels; air-reels and water reels; even an air barge, which is essentially a pallet jack that can move 54,000-pound loads across a room on a cushion of air. In addition to that, we became the owners of a pair of overhead cranes that we actually used to help us with the project. Afterwards, we marketed them online and they sold quickly.”

The part of the project in which those overhead cranes played a role was in the dismantling of a seven-story service structure located at the rear of the building. Charamut says they were able to use the Genesis shear to make cuts of the structural steel, bring the bridge cranes to it, and lower the sections down to ground—a much better tactic than what he says they first considered. “

Our initial game plan was to remove the entire back wall, cut the legs out from under the service structure and trip it back—a technique we’ve used many times before,” he explains. “But this was a 400-ton structure and, given that size, we didn’t feel entirely comfortable with that approach. So we went with a better alternative and it definitely went well. The service structure was made up of some really hearty steel, so I was impressed with how much of it the GXP 200R—the smaller of two Genesis attachments we have on-site— was able to cut. It really did an outstanding job for us.”

The full package delivered by Kuhn Equipment included the shear made by Genesis Attachments, Superior, Wis.; a 130 foot long-reach boom from Jewell Attachments of Portland, Ore.; and a 365C model excavator with tilt cab made by Caterpillar Inc., Peoria, Ill. Frank-Lin’s operator, Lee Messenger, says the entire demo package has performed well and helped keep the job on track.

Once Frank-Lin removes the roof, the balance of the service structure and all the steel formwork that makes up the walls, all that will remain will be a series of huge structural beams, each of which, when exposed, resembles an inverted letter “U.” The beams are secured to plates at grade with huge bolts.

“When we demolished the SAEFII building which was similar to this, but smaller, we wrestled with those beams,” says Charamut. “On the first two beams, we took a man lift and wrapped cables around each one and then pulled them over with a big dozer. They would lean over and eventually snap and fall. It was very nerve wracking. And because we had to determine where to make the right cut, and then spend many, many, hours actually cutting, it was also time-consuming.”

In the late stages of that project, Charamut and his crew discovered a much easier method that incorporated the Ultra High Reach in lieu of the man lift, dozer and cables. That same technique is being employed on the VPF’s beams, which he estimates have a 27-inch web and a 14-inch flange.

“We have learned that if we cut the bolts off the pads, flush with the plate on the bottom, then simply tap each arched-beam from behind using the high-reach, it will just topple. Once it is on the ground we will torch it and send the prepared scrap off to Trademark Metals, located about 15 miles from here.”

The majority of the material being demolished at the VPF site, roughly about 85 percent of the total, is being recycled. Charamut expects to recover between 600 and 700 tons of ferrous metal alone, as well as decent volumes of nonferrous metal, concrete, asphalt and more.

“We will take the concrete and asphalt from this job to a facility operated by NASA: the Diverted Aggregate Recycled Concrete Yard, or DARCY,” says Charamut. “There, it is recovered and reused. What can’t be recycled is taken to a NASA-owned and operated landfill here at KSC. So, essentially, we incur no dump or disposal fees at all. However, we bid the job with this in mind and factored that in.”

Though the length of the project takes the company through to the end of 2010, Frank-Lin rented the demo package from Kuhn Equipment for just 30 days—an indication of the confidence they had in both its performance and its reliability.

“Kuhn Equipment is outstanding in their support,” says Charamut, “so we knew we were in good hands. They are very fair and they always provide good, reliable equipment that’s built to perform on delivery. So, barring any natural disaster, we know we will be done within that 30-day window. The second machine we have at the VPF site, a Caterpillar 330CL with the LXP 300, is ours on a rental purchase option and we intend to buy it. We’ve really come to appreciate what these attachments can do for us and feel that LXP has a place in future projects.”