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Mechanical Handling Takes Off on the Airbus Beluga Line

Mechanical Handling Takes Off on the Airbus Beluga Line


Penny Hydraulics have installed specialist lighting winch systems at Airbus, Chester as part of the company’s £30m Beluga line station investment.

The Airbus A300-600ST (Super Transporter) or Beluga, is a version of the standard A300-600 wide-body airliner modified to carry aircraft parts and oversized cargo to a maximum payload of 47 metric tonnes. It received the official name of Super Transporter early on; however, the name Beluga, a large whale, gained popularity and has since been officially adopted. The Beluga XL, based on the Airbus A330 with similar modifications and dimensions, is being developed by Airbus to replace the model by 2020.

The fleet of five Beluga aircraft are the backbone of the Airbus oversize transport operation and deliver the wings assembled at Broughton for the A320, A330 and A350 families to the final assembly lines in Toulouse and Hamburg. The production rates of these aircraft have been recently increased to meet customer demand.

A £30m investment in a Beluga line station at Airbus has given the plant a major boost, increasing resilience at the Chester site. A robust and reliable supply chain being essential to Airbus, the company were forced to take action to stop them losing crucial loading and unloading time during high winds. Previously when winds exceeded 30 knots they had to halt wing loading as it was too strong for the hinges of the Beluga’s large main cargo door. Now the aircraft puts its nose through specially designed doors at the line station which offer shelter from the elements. With the Beluga aircraft being an essential component in the transportation of finished wings to final assembly lines, any delay loading can have huge knock on effects in aeroplane production.

The facility modifications did not end with the addition of the new loading jigs, further work included the addition of high specification lighting. Having supplied mechanical handling equipment to Airbus before, Penny Hydraulics lighting winch division were contacted to design, manufacture and install specialist winch systems to lift and lower 30m long lighting bars in the unit, the systems purpose being to allow the quick and easy lowering of the fittings for maintenance.

The winching systems incorporate the use of Contact Suspension Units which combine innovative design with robust construction and simple, reliable operation. When the light is in its raised and operating position the Contact Suspension Unit automatically makes the electrical circuits. Unlocking the unit to lower the light for maintenance automatically breaks the electrical circuits therefore no live cables are lowered with the fitting. The system is operated by a cost-effective self-sustaining hand winch which is connected to the Contact Suspension Unit by several steel wire ropes. Pulleys are supplied to carry the wire ropes along the desired rope runs allowing for easy and quick lowering of the high bay lighting bars for cleaning and maintenance without the need for ladders or scaffolding.

The lighting winch systems installed have three main benefits. Firstly, the systems ensure that Airbus fulfil their duty of care to employees by eliminating any unnecessary manual handling and potentially unsafe working practices. Secondly, this type of innovative mechanical handling device eliminates the need to work from height which must be avoided wherever possible. Finally, the system ensures that the suspended load has at least two means of support which is a requirement when securing and supporting a luminaire.

All systems are tested and certificated to The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER). Multi-award winning Penny Hydraulics are fully accredited to ISO9001, are UVDB (Utilities Vendor Database) registered and Safe Contractor Approved. In addition, site engineers are registered under the Construction Skills Certification Scheme ensuring good working practices and relationships are established and maintained well beyond the lifespan of the project.

Although lighting winch systems are most commonly used for lighting fittings such as chandeliers, high and low bay lights and high mast lighting, they can also be used for other items such as menu-boards, artwork and speakers. Penny Hydraulics lighting winch division has grown to become the leading authority in the installation and maintenance of winch systems for chandeliers and other lighting installations in the UK. With purpose built premises housing a design, manufacturing and assembly plant, the company carry out all the functions of a fully integrated company with design, manufacturing, quality control, aftersales support and a nationwide service operation.

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