FMC Stays Ahead of the Game

FMC STAYS AHEAD OF THE GAME - "Product Solutions to Meet the Customer's Needs" In a recent interview with FMC, General Manager Chuck Durst, Product Development Manager Nick Heemskerk and Business Development and Marketing Manager Gene Johnson...

Keeping on the subject of alternate fuels, Nick Heemskerk explains, "We're very comfortable with our electric powered equipment development. We have a conventional tractor that is electric-powered. We have a range of technology levels - the conventional tractor is the simplest, we have an electric-powered loader - Commander 15e that we've had in ramp trials for close to a year now. We can do 11 aircraft load / unloads, which basically is like a shift in a normal operation, maybe a bit more than a shift so we're comfortable that we can offer that as a kit to convert existing or build new loaders with electric power. Basically, the philosophy for all of our electric products is that we design the product in a 'fuel-neutral' way, which means that we can offer them either with one or two different types of diesel engines or with an electric version to meet the customer preferences. The controls, the operation and to some extent, the maintenance, stays the same."

Heemskerk adds that FMC is working on an electric towbarless tractor that should be launching in 2004.

Quick overview of major products:
Aircraft Container and Pallet Loaders - FMC's flagship product - the Commander loader line. The group says that over 5,000 units of the Commander line have been sold to the commercial segment and that most of them are still in service.

As Heemskerk mentioned previously, in 2004, FMC is planning to introduce a significant product improvement of the 15,000-lb. Commander loader called the 15i. "What we've done is we've taken a good design and improved it with regard to reliability and maintainability," says Heemskerk. "To the layperson, they probably won't be able to tell the difference, if it's a maintenance person or engineer, they will be very excited because of the detailed improvements to the electrical and hydraulic systems. Those improvements are focused on maintainability and reliability and maybe the most significant one is to be used for PLC, which gives us diagnostic and monitoring functions." He continues, "We've done some extensive testing to make sure that these new solutions are more robust than the proven technology that they're replacing. For an example, we made some changes to the hydraulic manifolds and we are taking our new manifolds through one million cycles to test them. Our PLC can be operated completely submerged under water. Electrical systems on the ramp tend to attract water and sooner or later, somebody is going to leave the door of the electrical compartment open and with conditions such as rain or 100 percent humidity as we have here in Florida, water will get in there. Right now, we're testing it in-house, but it is about to go to an airport. There are actually two prototypes - one in Europe and one in the U.S."

Aircraft Tow Tractors - " We have a full line of conventional tractors," says Heemskerk. "Our Towbarless tractors, a product line we acquired from German-based Krauss Maffei in 1998. What we're doing right now is revamping the product line and we're marketing them under the name, Expediter. We are rounding out the product line and revamping it and we're getting some common features in there such as simple operation, very rugged design -- designed for ramp use not for a theoretical nice life in the showroom. One of the important features is the inherent anti-jackknifing design for safety."

"Think of a hot rod driving down the speedway and it starts to skid sideways and they throw out a parachute and it forces it to straighten out in the rear," says Durst. "The rear is pulled back in a very simple description, the design causes that to happen rather than having the front wheels grab and the rear wheels will go forward. We've not had any jackknifing incidents with our equipment."

Heemskerk explains FMC's conventional tractor, the smallest is the 40000-lb. tractor but it can be ballasted as light as 28,000-lb. "You can do an RJ with that," he says. "With our towbarless tractor, the smallest aircraft we can handle is the BAE 146. We're working on a modification to our largest tractor, the Expediter 600, to handle the A380. Actually, our largest towbarless tractor could handle a passenger version A380 today, but it's kind of a squeeze."

Finally, Heemskerk shares that they are doing development work on the Tempest Deicer. "It differs that it's not built on the over-the road chassis that has been modified to accommodate fluid tanks, and a boom, etc.," he explains. "We developed a deicer from the ground up. We took very heavy axles and purpose-designed a chassis on top of that. It makes a much more stable platform for the deicing. We are able to include many operational cost savings such as single-engine design and very good maintenance access to all the components. Market reception has been positive and we've sold units in US, Europe and Asia. To meet demands from Europe we have incorporated a proportional mix system into the Tempest."

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