Raising the 8,000-pound bar
‘Cutting edge’ scaffolding tech demonstrated
Patt Flynn was like a child about to open a Christmas present on the morning of Friday, Aug. 16, and this gift had been waiting for him all summer.
At last, the morning to test one of the School of Construction’s top investments for the year had arrived.
Giant modular ladder
“This is just cutting-edge technology,” said Flynn, assistant professor of construction. “There’s few construction programs in America that have this type of equipment to practice on.”
Before Bruce Rhodes, research technologist, and his heavy-duty forklift got to work with it, the E.Z. Scaffolds Mast Climber just looked like a big, orange-painted steel block.
The forklift struggled with the four-ton device through the morning as E.Z. Scaffolds’ instructor James Henton coached Rhodes on how to get the pieces lifted in the proper places.
“This is not a job for the geometrically challenged,” Flynn said with a grin.
Still, says Cliff Morris, instructor of construction, the Mast Climber, which represents an investment of more than $100,000, advances job-site efficiency to previously unthinkable levels.
Morris would know: he worked as a field inspector for more than 10 years.
Scaffolding, he says, has always been one of those basic tasks of construction that was inherently time-consuming, labor-intensive and dangerous.
A small team of five adequately trained workers in ideal conditions can get all the pieces of the Mast Climber in place in less than an hour. The relative greenhorns of the School of Construction managed it in about two-and-a-half.
That’s when the remarkable innovation the device represents really comes into play, Morris and Flynn say. Traditionally, scaffolds may be built, and used, but then the process must begin anew to go higher.
The Mast Climber just climbs to the next level, along a vertical track that can be easily set in place by two men, four feet at a time. As many men, tools and supplies that are needed for a precision task may be carried with it.
It does this with a computer system that Henton explained is designed to remove as much of the “guesswork” as possible from scaffolding, and a 17-horsepower engine.
“Pretty much anything that has involved new technology and scaffolding, we’ve pretty much had a hand in it or will have a hand in it,” he said.
The computer system has a control panel that a child could operate, with an up button and a down button, as well as controls to shift into each mode.
There are also functions to lock the steel supports of the machinery down onto their base, so that the hydraulic pistons that make the device work do not become overstressed and leak.
With proper operation and support, the track and platform may climb to as high as 500 feet. Free-standing, it can scale to about 30 feet.
Step-up for students?
Beyond being admittedly “giddy” about seeing what the Mast Climber was able to do, Morris and Flynn emphasized that the device is not something one may find at a run-of-the-mill technical school.
“This is going to be a large investment,” Morris said. “We want students to say, ‘Hey, I’ve seen that. I’ve done that. I’ve had experience with that.’ It’s really going to catapult them into the industry.”
Flynn says that he’ll apply the simple, safety-enhancing nature of the device to all students through his sense of humor.
“I always like to say to our safety students, ‘Let’s say you’re being paid $20 an hour,’” he said. “‘If you get yourself hurt, then you can’t do anything. Don’t be worth less than $20 an hour.’ Don’t be a worth-less person.”
The highlight program that will benefit from having the Mast Climber will be the College of Tech’s new Environmental Safety Management degree, introduced into the curriculum for this semester.
With the Mast Climber, and a host of other devices the School of Construction plans to acquire in the near future for its outdoor lab, Morris says that Pittsburg State will become a unique education destination.
“Many things will happen this semester,” he said. “This is just the first.”