Behind the Scenes Look at FiberMax Crane Mats
Crane Hot Line recently interviewed DICA CEO, Kris Koberg. For the first time, DICA gives customers a behind the scenes look into how the FiberMax Crane Pads are manufactured. The article details key features of the innovative crane pad, and how the exclusive design and patented manufactuirng process creates a lightweight, cost saving and long-lasting solution for the industry.
Our sincere thanks to Mike Larson and Crane Hotline for their interview.
By Mike Larson, Crane Hot Line Editor
When DICA introduced FiberMax crane pads in 2014, the new kind of pad was the first to combine new materials, core designs, and manufacturing processes.
“Traditional mats and pads are heavy and difficult to transport,” said DICA CEO Kris Koberg. “They can lack production consistency, and in some cases have short life expectancies.”Koberg said DICA saw an opportunity to produce a lighter crane pad with similar strength and stiffness characteristics to wood and steel options but with a longer life span and more consistent, quantifiable properties.“Our objective was to develop develop crane pads for every outrigger enabled mobile crane and crane mats for tracked equipment,” Koberg said.
The combination of FiberMax pads’ design and materials offers four advantages over traditional steel crane pads, steel plate, and wooden crane pads.
The first is engineered performance. FiberMax crane pads are engineered for optimal strength and rigidity to maximize load distribution at the lowest possible weight, which is the second advantage.
FiberMax crane pads typically weigh 60% less than traditional pads and mats. That saves users thousands of pounds they need to take to a job, which can result in needing fewer trucks.
The third is lower operating cost. One component of that is the lighter weight that helps reduce transport cost. Another is faster setup and teardown, due to the ability to lift multiple pads at once. Lifting hardware options give users additional flexibility that best suits their operation. Yet another is that FiberMax pads are easy to clean and do not absorb bacteria or other contaminants. That eliminates site-to-site contamination concerns.
The fourth advantage is long life. The fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) composite material used in FiberMax pads resists chemicals, liquids, and corrosion for decades. FiberMax pads thrive in environments that degrade wood and steel more quickly.
DICA’s exclusive design and manufacturing processes for FiberMax pads is protected by a U.S. patent.
Here’s howDICA’s design and manufacturing process enable FiberMax pads to deliver strength, stiffness, long life, at light weight.
FiberMax construction starts with a welded steel frame that forms the four sides and serves as the mold for the pad.
During manufacturing, the dry fiber internal materials are put into the mold, and the mold is bagged to allow creation of a vacuum within it.
Once the vacuum is created, precisely positioned resin inlets are opened so the polymer resin can flow into the mold.
The vacuum action drives resin throughout the fiberglass reinforcements. Though more time-consuming than other methods, vacuum infusion is more customizable and creates a maximum fiber-to-resin ratio.
Parts made using the vacuum infusion process are both stronger and lighter, thanks to the improved fiber-to-resin ratio.
Also, vacuum infusion is also highly controllable, so every pad can be made with consistent quality. Only three variables affect the resin flow: the permeability of the laminate; the difference between the pressure in the mold cavity and the atmosphere; and the resin’s viscosity.
“Our rigorous quality-control system checks every step of the process,” said Koberg. “It includes inspection and testing of all material before kitting, molding, and finishing starts.”
That consistency, says Koberg, lets DICA accurately project key performance measures of FiberMax pads, based on the outrigger foot size and shape, and the type of ground the user is setup on.
That performance has undergone extensive independent physical testing at North Carolina State University, and has also been proven in the field under the outriggers of crane users throughout North America.
“We back all of our products with the DICA Promise,” said Koberg. “If a customer is not convinced that the product they bought is the safest solution for their people and equipment, we give them 100% of their money back.”
Vacuum Infusion, Step by Step
1. Lay down fiberglass. First, technicians lay down dry fiberglass fabrics, similar to textiles. The fabrics are layered and oriented to specific design requirements.
2. Position internal core. The internal core is placed on the bottom facesheet. Vertical fiberglass in the core will become the shear webs. The closed-cell foam offers shape until the pad is completely molded. The desired amount of fiberglass can be placed on the foam to increase the structural properties of the webs.
3. Seal bag. To achieve a vacuum and infuse polymer resin into the pad, a bagging sheet is sealed to the molding tool.
4. Infuse resin. Atmospheric pressure pushes the liquid resin all throughout the pad to assure full infusion. In other words, when the resin valves are opened, atmospheric pressure pushes the resin to fill every void and imbalance. Atmospheric pressure’s need to balance itself pushes the resin throughout the mold.
5. Cure and remove. Once the resin is infused, a chemical reaction creates heat that cures the resin into a solid part. The part is then removed from the mold.
6. Apply finishes. Each FiberMax pad is completed by many finishing operations, including sanding, drilling, applying nonslip overlay, and applying coatings for extra protection and aesthetics.
Proof in Performance
With crush ratings to 1,000 psi and capacities to 400,000 lbs., FiberMax crane pads are a high-performance solution for mobile cranes with lifting capacities to 500 tons.
The one-piece, solid-body FiberMax pad distributes loads efficiently both horizontally and longitudinally.
Wilkerson Crane Rental Inc., Bonner Springs, Kansas, uses FiberMax pads with its 135-, 500-, and 550-USt all-terrain cranes.
“Under each outrigger on our Liebherr LTM 1400-7.1, we used to stack a 12″-thick bottom mat and a 6″ transition mat on top of that,” said Jeff Holt, Wilkerson vice president. “We’ve replaced them with a single 12″ FiberMax pad.”
Holt said that the FiberMax pads are lighter, more durable, and perform better than the wooden mats. “The FiberMax pads weigh far less than the wooden mats. That lighter weight sometimes lets us send one less truck to a job,” Holt said.
“Also, the FiberMax pads distribute loads really well and don’t deflect, crack, or deteriorate,” Holt added. “We’ve used one set just about every day for three years. They’re as solid as the day we got them. I think they’ll last forever,” he said.