What's new
What's new

Suctions cups for lifting single sheets with forklift

Strostkovy

Stainless
Joined
Oct 29, 2017
I have the issue of trying to load single sheets of metal off of a pallet and on to a plasma table (or just somewhere else to get to where we need it) so I built this monstrosity:
RAKRSJB.jpg

(The cage is off of the forklift because I have to get into the engine a lot until I finish all of the repairs and the cage is very heavy to take on and off. I will put it back on once I get a pallet rack set up and have cause to lift anything above four feet.)

There are eight suction cup assemblies. Each assembly is made from a regular 8" suction cup for material handling that had a little thumb pump and handle on it. I took the handle and pump off, and bolted them to the steel frame you see in the picture. I ran a tee from the suction cup that goes to a vacuum gauge (one per cup, very, very helpful) and to another tee which leads to a diaphragm pump and release solenoid (one per cup).

You can audibly tell if all of the pumps are pulling a good vacuum, and the gauges all read 18 in Hg or better. It is impossible to activate the release valve while the pumps are on, so chances of accidental dumping are low.

Each suction cup is floating so that when you set the frame down on the metal each one sits flush on the plate. Currently the pumps are powered from the forklift, but I think I'm going to get a battery and remote so you can drop it off to move regular pallets and pick it back up more easily. I ran out of vacuum hose so the gauges are mounted on each pump. As soon as more hose arrives I will put all 8 gauges where the forklift operator can see them. I will likely also add some mirrors around the edges so you can clearly see where the edges of the sheet will line up, so that getting on and off the forklift is minimized, and messing with the sheet after placement is minimized.

Some possible questions and/or concerns:

Why not magnets?
-Magnets don't work on stainless or aluminum, and can pick up more than one sheet.

What if a suction cup comes loose?
-Each suction cup is independent so you still have 7 holding the load, which is well within the safety margin on this.

What if you lose power?
-The suction cups use diaphragm pumps, which have a built in check valve. Since the pumps can't bypass when off, it takes over three minutes for the sheet to be at risk of dropping.

What if you need to pick up scratched/dirty metal
-This works perfectly fine on plywood, drywall, and OSB, so it would have to be pretty bad metal. But you can know for sure by looking at the vacuum gauges and being sure there are no leaks.

The pump current consumption is around 5-6A depending on how much air they are moving. Total cost was just over $600, but I had a fair amount of steel left over. The tubing the forks slide into is pretty tight, but you can just suction the whole thing to the concrete floor and back up.

I've picked up a sheet of 5' x 10' 10 gauge steel, bounced it as hard as the hydraulics would let me, and jumped around on it and can't get anything to budge. I picked up 20 gauge SS and tried to bend it from under the suction cup and could not.

Like any load, you should still keep it as low as reasonable and never be under it.

I'm not sure if I was thorough or scatterbrained, but I used paragraphs, so at least I tried. Kind of.
 

DDoug

Diamond
Joined
Oct 18, 2005
Location
NW Pa
You did very nice sir.

Good write up, good pix, and a pretty good looking design.

You seem to have addressed all the issues as well.
 

adama

Diamond
Joined
Dec 28, 2004
Location
uk
Looks good, the only suggestion i would have is you may want to add some kinda pivot - chain to the forklift so you have a little freedom rotationally and in x and y, like this a few slightly raised simple sheet stops on the plasma table and you can pull the sheet slightly to the stops and lower it straight down with no dragging - scratching on the used plasma - laser bed bars. Makes a massive reduction in scratching on aluminium parts being able to simply drop the sheet vertically straight onto the bed with no sliding into alignment.
 

crazygoat

Stainless
Joined
Sep 23, 2017
The amazing part is that you accomplished all this usefulness in California.

And have not (yet) been tagged with a "known to cause cancer in.." label.

Good on yah!

That will be forthcoming when the right(wrong?) person sees it!!
 
Joined
Jan 15, 2005
Location
The Netherlands
I agree with Adama on hanging it on some chains
Also I would recommend the cups between springs
Like the picture
slides_group_mid2.jpg

That way you can also lift thin sheets when they are not laying straight

Peter
 

adama

Diamond
Joined
Dec 28, 2004
Location
uk
Nice.
You might want to calculate the load it can theoretically hold just so you know when you are running out of safety factor.

Yes the notion of not standing under it might not be the dangerous spot. Equally even a 10x5 of 1/8" plates not exactly enough to crush you, but my experience of large thin plates falling flat they tend to glide side ways on the air cushion and the edges are the nasty sharp bit!
 

Strostkovy

Stainless
Joined
Oct 29, 2017
Looks good, the only suggestion i would have is you may want to add some kinda pivot - chain to the forklift so you have a little freedom rotationally and in x and y, like this a few slightly raised simple sheet stops on the plasma table and you can pull the sheet slightly to the stops and lower it straight down with no dragging - scratching on the used plasma - laser bed bars. Makes a massive reduction in scratching on aluminium parts being able to simply drop the sheet vertically straight onto the bed with no sliding into alignment.

The forklift I have has sideshift and an automatic transmission, so I can line up X and Y as precisely as I can see (hence the desire for mirrors). As for pivoting just cranking the wheel one way gives me tons of control, and getting a sheet where I want it is very easy. Chains would be great for a spotter to do the final alignment with, but I tend to work odd hours so a spotter isn't often available.

I agree with Adama on hanging it on some chains
Also I would recommend the cups between springs
Like the picture
View attachment 220270

That way you can also lift thin sheets when they are not laying straight

Peter

This is one suction cup assembly:

ntOHhkE.jpg


The lower plate the cups are bolted to have four half inch bolts welded to it. The nuts are left purposefully loose, which allows each cup to move up or down about one inch and pivot significantly to pick up a distorted sheet. Once you lift the forks all of the suction cups hang from the same height and the sheet is held flat, regardless of if you have the sheet off to the side (springed cups would hang lower on one side if the cups were offset)


Nice.
You might want to calculate the load it can theoretically hold just so you know when you are running out of safety factor.

The theoretical separation force required is 3700 pounds. A little bit less because there is a soft spot in the middle of the cups that I'm sure will just deflect, but when you pull down on the cups substantially the vacuum increases th further down you pull it. (The valves in the pump can hold a much higher vacuum than the pump itself can produce. The actual load rating for the cups as I bought them is 125 pounds, but that's mostly because of the handle and pump it comes with, as the cups themselves are built much better. I am totally comfortable with using it for 1000 pounds, but for anything thicker than 1/4" I am going to put a pair of safety straps on it just to protect the machine I am loading, and then remove them with the plate 1/2" off of the bed.
 

Strostkovy

Stainless
Joined
Oct 29, 2017
Yes the notion of not standing under it might not be the dangerous spot. Equally even a 10x5 of 1/8" plates not exactly enough to crush you, but my experience of large thin plates falling flat they tend to glide side ways on the air cushion and the edges are the nasty sharp bit!

This is an especially large concern with this because if a sheet fails, it will likely fail at one side first, then fall at an angle. I did try dropping a sheet of 10 gauge from 18" above the pallet and there didn't seem to be any effect from the air cushion. I expect that will only happen with aluminum and thin sheets, which are luckily much lighter and won't even separate without power. (You can just squish the cups to the sheet without using the pumps and it is still very difficult to get off)
 

adama

Diamond
Joined
Dec 28, 2004
Location
uk
^ I have personally witnessed it with a 1/2" sheet of 316 and a circa 6x12' sheet at that, fell over from standing near upright, then about 4" off the floor went about 6' diagonally across the shop, have seen a lot of flat sheets do it when handling them - laying them down on guillotine beds too.
 

Strostkovy

Stainless
Joined
Oct 29, 2017
^ I have personally witnessed it with a 1/2" sheet of 316 and a circa 6x12' sheet at that, fell over from standing near upright, then about 4" off the floor went about 6' diagonally across the shop, have seen a lot of flat sheets do it when handling them - laying them down on guillotine beds too.

From upright it doesn't even need an air cushion to kick out. The center of mass is going to try to go straight down, so unless you have one end very solidly stuck to the ground it will try to kick out one side half of the length of the sheet. The air cushion definitely helps reduce the friction towards the end though.

A sheet will always try to rotate around it's center, so a vertical falling sheet is far more dangerous than a flat falling sheet.
 

Miguels244

Diamond
Joined
Mar 27, 2011
Location
Denver, CO USA
The above three posts make me pucker.
I've seen some scary stuff, but not a sheet of 8 gage steel out of control floating on the ground effect.
Damn
 

Strostkovy

Stainless
Joined
Oct 29, 2017
A quick update:

I ended up putting a remote control and battery on it because it was getting annoying getting on and off the forklift every time I had to use the suction cups after moving a pallet.

Now I can pick up and move a pallet, pick up the suction cups, load a sheet onto the machine, set down the suction cups, and swap around pallets. Once I nail stickers to the underside of the rest of my pallets I'll never have to get off and back on the forklift again.

As far as the suction cups themselves go they are in great shape still, and all of the pumps still pull a strong vacuum. The cups work while very dirty and on very dirty steel.

So far I have loaded a half inch 5' x 10' plate without any safety straps and I was not able to get it to come loose by jumping on it or slamming the forks around. I did wipe down the cups and metal first.
 

andrewmawson

Hot Rolled
Joined
Jan 9, 2003
Location
UK
I expect where and how you park it will be the major influence on cup life. Gritty concrete floor with occasional metal shards wouldn't be good for instance, but if it can always be parked on a clean sheet that would be much better.
 

Strostkovy

Stainless
Joined
Oct 29, 2017
I expect where and how you park it will be the major influence on cup life. Gritty concrete floor with occasional metal shards wouldn't be good for instance, but if it can always be parked on a clean sheet that would be much better.

There is one scratch on a noncritical area of a cup due to parking it on the scrap pallet. Our floor is kept clean and is painted so doesn't do much damage, but the scrap pallets are too rough.

I try to keep it on a clean sheet but I'm going make a space on the new pallet rack I am building.
 

Rob F.

Diamond
Joined
Aug 5, 2012
Location
California, Central Coast
I worked at a shop that had a similar vacuum lifter (4 larger cups) it hung from a bridge crane in use and was always parked on the metal sheets it would lift. You will not lift the sheet without it so why not leave it there?
 

Illinoyance

Stainless
Joined
Aug 24, 2015
The Alcoa (now Arconic) plant at Bettendorf IA uses a lot of vacuum lifters. The vacuum pumps themselves look like regular air compressors driven by electric motors. One feature on all of the lifters was a tank on the vacuum line. That would give some time before the vacuum dropped enough to drop a load. It gave the operator time to set down the load before it fell.
 

Garwood

Diamond
Joined
Oct 10, 2009
Location
Oregon
My lasers came with a sheet loader system. It used vacuum cups to load new sheets and fingers that fit between the table slats to pull out the parts and skeletons. The vacuum cups ran on compressed air and had a tiny venturi on each cup.
 

Strostkovy

Stainless
Joined
Oct 29, 2017
I worked at a shop that had a similar vacuum lifter (4 larger cups) it hung from a bridge crane in use and was always parked on the metal sheets it would lift. You will not lift the sheet without it so why not leave it there?

We work with several different sizes of sheet/plate and have to constantly switch around, so we often have to move it off of the pallet so we can swap them.

The Alcoa (now Arconic) plant at Bettendorf IA uses a lot of vacuum lifters. The vacuum pumps themselves look like regular air compressors driven by electric motors. One feature on all of the lifters was a tank on the vacuum line. That would give some time before the vacuum dropped enough to drop a load. It gave the operator time to set down the load before it fell.

This setup gives you about 30 seconds after shutdown before a typical sheet will drop off. There is a release solenoid you have to trigger to drop the sheet. I got the wires tangled in the forklift mast and pulled them apart, so I got to test that. Now that I've added the remote control that shouldn't happen, and I have a lockout that prevents operation of the release solenoid while the pumps are on.

How do the commercial vacuum lifters drop a load? Do they have a solenoid or do you just wait?
 








 
Top