Vacuum Anchor Technology

Technology developed to protect mechanics and aircraft

Northwest also finds the anchors invaluable for scheduled projects such as antenna changes, and as such, has distributed the anchors among its maintenance operations in Boston, Minneapolis, Memphis, Detroit, and Anchorage, among others. The anchors are highly mobile and can easily be transported to other locations based on need. Even the first generation of vacuum anchors, at under 100 pounds, were much easier to handle than a 1,000-pound plus lift.

Benefits of vacuum anchor
Today, several generations later, Northwest Airlines has traded in its old anchors in favor of the self-contained anchor, which was introduced in October 2005. The vacuum anchor features an on-board compressed air bottle that creates the suction power, eliminating the need to connect to a shop air source. Most recently, Capital Safety introduced its third generation self-contained vacuum anchor, the Mobi-Lok. Weighing in at less than 20 pounds, it is 40 percent lighter than previous generations of vacuum anchors. It is rated as a fall arrest vacuum anchor.

At Northwest Airlines, every mechanic is trained in fall protection procedures in general, and the use of the vacuum anchors in particular. Although lift equipment is still used when convenient, for tasks atop the wings and the crown of the airplane, the vacuum anchor is a safer, more efficient tool, according to McMurtry.

“We think it’s a better way to go from a safety standpoint,” McMurtry says. Of course, the anchor also has its efficiency benefits. “The new system is so much easier for a mechanic in terms of efficiency,” McMurtry continues.

When Northwest’s corporate health and safety group first approached the technical operations group with the concept of the vacuum anchor, it had to sell the benefits of the new technology, according to McMurtry. “Now it sells itself,” he says. “They’re asking us when we’re going to get the next round of orders in. You’ve really achieved something when you get people to approach the safety group to purchase new equipment.”

The mobility and ease of use made switching to the vacuum anchor ideal, McMurtry says. But the time savings is also critical. The vacuum anchor allows work to be performed within a radius as far as the lanyard connecting the worker to the anchor extends. The horizontal lifeline setup is even more convenient, providing complete coverage of the fuselage or wing without the need to disconnect and reconnect.

In addition to the anchor’s portable and nonpenetrating benefits, the latest model also incorporates anti-scuff and Skydrol-resistant pads, along with intrinsically safe electronics.

The vacuum anchor is still a relatively young technology, but in the short time it has been around, it has already sparked a mini-revolution in the way mechanics and inspectors perform work atop aircraft.

When it comes to technological advances such as safety equipment, most companies become involved on the back-end when a prototype or first generation model is available. In Northwest’s case, approaching a manufacturer proactively to work on developing a product that saves valuable resources has been a positive experience, one that it would likely repeat.

“We’re fortunate DBI wanted to take the technology on and develop it,” McMurtry says. “Most people wouldn’t think about partnering with a manufacturer, but it’s been such a positive experience and we’re constantly looking at better ways of doing things. Northwest Airlines is always looking to build a better mousetrap, so if there’s an opportunity for us to continue to pioneer safety improvements in our industry, we’ll definitely do it.”

Tim Maroushek is product marketing manager for Systems and Anchors with Capital Safety in Red Wing, MN. For more information, visit or call (800) 328-6146.

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