No matter the industry, annual maintenance can leave a sour taste. Keeping annual inspections and routine maintenance short and sweet is vital for overall efficiency — especially for operations like North America’s largest beet processing factory. So when the plant upgraded to a new 800-ton vertical lime kiln, it decided to look for an upgraded maintenance solution that would increase efficiency and decrease downtime. The sugar producer found sweet success with Bricking Solutions’ EZ Lift Suspended Platform.
New Kiln, New Solutions
In 2012, the company completed work on an Eberhardt Lime Shaft Kiln KR8.0. The 260-foot vertical lime kiln replaced two older kilns — a Union Carbide and a Belgian — with a combined capacity of 500 tons.
Several major factors made routine maintenance difficult on the previous system. The two kilns had four compartments each and were operated individually. There wasn’t a consistent control scheme for tandem operation, resulting in excessive complexity and troubleshooting. The Union Carbide gas kiln was fueled by natural gas and had the tendency to lose flame and create an explosive environment if not appropriately managed. Employees had to manually open flanged air ports to insert propane burner lances in order to ignite the gas pockets and re-light the gas feed for kiln operation. The Belgian kiln was a mix-feed kiln fueled with coal stone. If the mix-feed blend was not managed appropriately, the operation would form clinkers that would promote channeling of unburnt rock, decreasing system performance and increasing the risk of employee injury or equipment damage. The ash and soot deposits would also carry through the gas system, leaving behind a film that coated the gaseous systems and caused equipment malfunctions, increasing maintenance spending.
It took every minute of the factory’s three-month downtime to inspect and service the kilns. Amalgamated Sugar was forced to rely on a complex scaffolding system that took several days to erect. Because of time constraints and the amount of time it took to complete service, crews were never able to service all of the old kilns’ chambers in one maintenance cycle.
“Even though our crews worked in the kilns for two to three months, they were only able to tackle one chamber with major repairs each year,” said Dayna Anderson, Amalgamated Sugar lead lime kiln mechanic. “Then we’d rotate the next year. The new kiln is four times the size of our old kilns, so we knew we needed to find a safer, more efficient way to perform maintenance.”
The new kiln came with its own maintenance challenges. The only access point was a 54-inch-high by 36-inch-wide door 80 feet above grade that required a crane to reach with materials and tools. Crews needed to inspect and service a larger area — 6,600 square feet.
Amalgamated Sugar found the answer to its maintenance conundrum with a custom-made EZ Lift Platform from Bricking Solutions. The 22-foot diameter platform, constructed of high-strength 6061-T6 aluminum, offers a net load capacity of 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms). The platform, suspended by six 1,500-pound-capacity hoists, carries a four-person team, tools and materials up and down the 80-foot work area.
“We carry buckets, bricks, hand tools, brick insulation (wool) and all the other materials we need for hours of uninterrupted work,” Anderson said. “Before the platform, we had to make multiple trips for these items. The platform provides a safe, sturdy work environment where multiple people can tackle a lot more surface area per hour than in the past. The EZ Lift Platform has allowed for improved maintenance activities in a shorter timeframe with its security and convenience.”
The 360-degree accessibility provided by the EZ Lift means crews can quickly complete more thorough inspections, diminishing downtime. Time saved erecting complex scaffolding systems can be applied to maintenance. The open design also means workers have easy access to the entire work surface. In the past, scaffolding frequently obscured small flaws causing them to be overlooked. The EZ Lift incorporates mechanically extendable outriggers for positioning and stabilizing while still leaving room for crews to inspect every inch of work surface.
“Between the EZ Lift Platform and our old system, there’s no comparison,” Anderson said. “The EZ Lift gives us the safety and maneuverability we need to get annual maintenance done quickly. We can now get all the maintenance work completed in eight weeks. That’s a huge improvement over what we used to do.”
After decades of ladders and scaffolding, Amalgamated Sugar officials are excited to have a safe, durable solution that increases the efficiency of kiln maintenance. The custom-designed platform improves ROI by diminishing downtime, while providing a comfortable work area for the whole crew. All in all, it makes for a sweet deal.
Contact a Bricking Solutions expert for more information on how a custom-engineered solution like the EZ Lift Suspended Platform can benefit your maintenance routine.