Speed, Safety and Productivity
How one new piece of equipment changed the way this Texas company does business
W.W. Cannon is willing to go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction. In this case study, an entire business was changed with the addition of a single workspace modification – a heavy-duty custom vacuum tube lifter capable of safely lifting and transporting up to 800 lb. brick slabs.
Meridian Brick is the largest manufacturer and supplier of brick and masonry products in North America. They have a network of local facilities across the United States and Canada, and offer tailored solutions for homeowners, builders, architects and designers.
Increase Workplace Safety Though Facilities Improvement
For Meridian Brick and Masonry Supply in Austin, Texas, moving bricks and slabs by hand was an issue.
“The workforce is getting older,” says Doug Hutchins, W.W. Cannon’s own “Warehouse Lifeguard.” “I definitely haven’t seen anybody in their 20s or 30s out there. To keep moving around bricks like that… they really needed to get their system fixed.”
At this location, clay is mined behind the facility, and then baked in ovens into bricks. Inside the ovens are large slabs that have to be regularly changed depending on the type of brick being produced. When Doug got the call, both the bricks and the slabs were being moved by hand.
“If two people are picking it up and moving it, they’re basically waddling like ducks,” says Hutchins. “Their feet are just scooting across the floor because it’s so heavy.”
While increased speed and productivity were among Meridian’s goals, the safety of their employees was their main concern.
“They’re not calling trying to make the situation safer for their employees because of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration),” says Hutchins. “In this particular situation they did it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a lot of weight for employees to be moving around.”
A Schmalz Custom Vacuum Tube Lifter With Two-In-One Safety Feature
Seeking a safe, productive solution, Meridian contacted Schmalz, a vacuum tube lifter in North Carolina. Since they didn’t have any offices in Texas, Schmalz turned to Hutchins for help. After a quick phone call, the “Warehouse Lifeguard” went to Meridian Brick’s facility to discuss their needs and potential solutions. Hutchins explained what the vacuum tube lifters could do, and a week later, Meridian was sending a variety of bricks across the country for testing.
“What’s really cool about this process is that they shipped their bricks out to North Carolina,” says Hutchins. “We even invited one of their employees out to the facility to watch the testing process. I met him there and he was watching the testing being done.”
As part of the testing, a video was made showing Hutchins personally using the vacuum tube lifter included in W.W. Cannon’s quote to move different sized blocks. Once the testing was complete, the bricks were shipped back to Meridian.
“As soon as they saw that video, they were blown away, “says Hutchins.
How To Use A Heavy-Duty Vacuum Tube Lifter To Move 400 LB Brick Slabs
As part of the videos, Hutchins showed how the lifter will refuse to operate if any part of the suction cup isn’t fully adhered to the product, and how the lifter slowly descends if power is cut off to the facility (rather than simply losing suction and dropping its load).
“Because they were so intense about safety, they had a number of questions that we had to prove to them,” says Hutchins. “And so we had to do a lot of educating on the safety of the product. Not talk; they wouldn’t settle for ‘oh yeah, this is a safety feature.’ They had to be shown it, and I get that because on a project of this scale they really have to be educated before they pull the trigger.”
W.W. Cannon’s solution involved a single lifter with suction cups that could lift large and small weights, and a workstation crane with a custom post that allowed for the smallest footprint within the facility.
“We made it where there was a lot of open room underneath it, so forklifts can go underneath it easily, people can walk under it easily, and the bricks and blocks could move under it easily. That was a real benefit for them.”
Hutchins was also on-site for the final installation.
“I try to get my hands on the equipment before my customers do every time,” says Hutchins. “We always do safety training, which is one of the things that separates us from other companies. They just want to sell, get out of there and move on to the next customer. What’s important for the customers is that all of the people using it know how it works. That’s a benefit of what W.W. Cannon does —we’ll train everybody on how to safely use it.”
“It’s funny. They always look at the vacuum, and they look at me the first time I turn it on and they go, ‘I don’t think it’s going to lift the biggest brick that we have.’ And this brick is 363 pounds and four feet by four feet. It’s big,” says Hutchins.” It never fails that they look at me and somebody goes ‘I don’t think that’s going to lift it.’ And it does. It actually has a two-to-one safety factor, so it could easily lift 800 pounds.”
Thanks to the new lifter, safety and speed have been dramatically increased.
“It’s super from a productivity standpoint,” says Hutchins. “The vacuum tube lifter moves quickly, and instead of having two employees move a block around, which they had to do manually, one employee can work while the other employee can pick up a brick and move a brick. Another benefit is speed—with this, you can really walk as fast as you want to walk and this lifter will move it.”
The upgrade clearly made an impression, as other sites are now adopting the new technology.
“It’s turning into more projects out there,” says Hutchins. “They have five other facilities, so what they did is let the vacuum tube lifter run for about 5 months, and if it worked other facilities were probably going to be interested. Now it has expanded to another one of their plants.”
For Hutchins, it wasn’t just the equipment, but W.W. Cannon’s level of service and attention to detail that made the new installation such a success.
“We have people in this industry that sell it and pass it off to a project manager,” he says. “For all of these projects, I really want to be with a customer from the start until the very end. I don’t just sell and run — I’m in this through thick and thin. Especially for the training part.”
However, the “Warehouse Lifeguard” does have one regret.
“I wish in that video I wore lifeguard gear,” says Hutchins.
To speak to us directly and learn what our design and installation team can do for your business, call us today at 800-442-3061. We’re on standby to assist you.