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L&H? It's NASA calling

Jun 19, 2013 - By Don Warfield, Staff Writer

L & H Industrial of Gillette, already an international power player in aftermarket mining equipment parts, is no shrinking violet when it comes to seizing opportunities.

But the U.S. space program?

Yes, indeed. L & H has become NASA's supplier and installer for many precision steel parts that will be used in the overhaul and upgrade of NASA's crawler-transporter, the CT-2. L & H's parts will be installed in the lower roller assemblies of the CT-2's four crawler units.

The crawler-transporter, familiar throughout the world as the machine that hauls space vehicles to the launch pad, is big: 148 feet long, 114 feet wide and 6 million pounds. It is also more than 45 years old.

The current overhaul began over a year ago and won't be completely finished until 2017.

The rebuild will replace worn components and increase the CT-2's gross vehicle weight from 18 million to 21.2 million pounds. (And you thought mining equipment was big!)

The Space Launch System, planned for the Orion manned space flights of the future, will require the increased capacity.

"These upgrades are designed to make sure the crawler will support us for another 50 years," said Mary Hanna, CT project manager.

"Many of the older parts were wearing out from years of use."

Good news: Virtue can have its reward

NASA didn't just do a Google search for machine shops and click on a company in faraway Wyoming. L & H benefitted from customer referrals and its own capabilities, honed by years of experience building better mousetraps for the mining industry.

The company received an invitation to bid in March 2012. Its final bid had to be very extensive, including projected costs, capabilities, experience, safety record, processes and much more - and it was due in only two months.

The competition was 19 industrial heavyweights, such as Caterpillar and Joy Global. When the smoke cleared, L & H was one of two still standing.

After extensive site visits in August by NASA and prime contractor QinetiQ-North America, L & H won out and was awarded the contract on Oct. 1.

Not just another day at the machine shop

Production of the first 800 components - 250 tons of steel - began in early 2013 and is now complete, according to project manager Bill Schroyer.

L & H machinists are producing shaft assemblies, rollers, sleeves and other hardware for the CT-2 overhaul, Schroyer said.

Beyond sheer size, the specifications for the parts leave little room for error, Schroyer said. For instance, the finish of the parts is so fine that it looks and feels like a mirror.

No dimension of the huge track rollers - each about two feet in diameter and several inches thick - may vary by more than two thousands of an inch.

The parallel dimensions of the rollers may not vary by more than three thousands of an inch. The same parameters govern other parts.

L & H personnel, led by field service manager Jason Percifield, will install the first 800 parts in two of the CT-2's four crawler units over a period of five months this year.

Schroyer and Percifield will repeat the process with another 250 tons of parts for the other two crawlers. They expect to complete their work by May 2014.

Meanwhile, back at the mines ...

Having a NASA contract may be exotic, but L & H Industrial has not forgotten that mining has been, and will continue to be, its bread and butter.

The company recently opened another international operation, a sales office and warehouse in Edmonton, Alberta, according to Brittany Thomas, L & H director of marketing and advertising.

Closer to home, the company has launched a new field service operation aimed at mobile equipment maintenance and repair. Services encompass electrical, mechanical and hydraulics.

Rick Saxton, formerly of LeTourneau Technologies, heads up the division. Four technicians, all with previous mining experience, are employed.

Much work centers on the Powder River Basin, but the unit has done work in Nevada as well.

L & H's mobile equipment service gives mine operators an alternative to OEM service, Thomas said. "We're not afraid to take chances," she said. "L & H has built its business on supplying what our customers need."

L & H has taken on various distributorships over the years, and it added two recently, Thomas said.

One is the Applied Fiber Mining Systems lightweight haul truck tie-back. When haul truck beds must be raised for maintenance, safety concerns make it imperative that the bed be securely "tied off" to the truck frame to prevent it from inadvertently falling.

Steel wire cables have been used for many years, but they have been heavy and easily damaged. The Applied Fiber version is 1/3 to 1/2 the weight of steel. Its outer jacket also makes it less prone to the hazards common to repair shops - cuts, welding sparks, abrasions, chemicals, etc.

A second product slated for L & H distributorship is the Flow-Tech Systems non-pressurized fueling system for diesel equipment. The product is well known in the PRB; L & H will take it worldwide. Flow-Tech company literature claims over $8 million in fuel savings for its PRB customers since 2007.

"L & H is really growing," Thomas said.

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