You are on page 1of 21

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling


Material handling is the most important activity in every

industries Material Handling is increasingly being recognized as a primary tool for

improving productivity Nearly every activity in manufacturing involves some form of

material handling. Material handling is clearly of major importance because it

impacts on the manufacturing function.

This Report focused some executive overview on Recent

development in material handling broad outlook regarding the Air caster.

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim.

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling


Material handling plays an very important role in the industrial economy. Mass

production depends mainly on conveying system and expansions is mass production

invariably follow developments in method of handling the materials involved. The

material handling is a system or combination of methods, facilities, labour and

equipment for moving, packaging and storing of materials to meet specific

objectives. Materials handling is increasingly being recognized as a primary tool for

improving productivity. Nearly every activity in manufacturing involves some form of

material handling. The productivity of any company will be increased if proper

material handling equipment is installed to control the element of operation. The

conventional material handling system suffer from many drawbacks and hence it is

essential to develop the new system which is more convenient.

One of the most versatile system that based on creating thin film of air

between the base of the load and the floor. This almost eliminates friction between

load and floor, and the object can moved in any direction with very small effort. This

innovative system is known as Air caster or Air Bearing.

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim. 2

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling



There are two major categories of materials which are

1. Units

2. Bulk

2.1.1 UNITS

Units are separate, discrete items, ranging in size from a) nuts and bolts to b) pallet

loads of bags c) car bodies d) ingots and castings .

Example of unit handling system includes automotive assembly lines, ware

houses storage and retrieval system, wood conveying in timber mill, can convey in

sugar mill, steel coils and plates transfer in steel mill, mould and core transfer in

foundries, barrels filling and transfer in beverage industries.

Common elements of a unit handling system also includes lift trucks,

overhead cranes, gantry cranes, jib crane, conveyors trucks, hoists, monorails,

storage racks, positioning equipment.

2.1.2 BULK

Bulk material handling is characterized by continuous flow operations,

involving materials in an aggregate form. Bulk material on the other hand are stored

and handled in volume, often in unpacked form. Example of bulk handled includes

dry powders, granules, coal, fertilizer, chemical, sugar, sulfur, salt, cement, sand,

foodgrains, fly ash.

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim. 3

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling

Common elements of a bulk handling system includes various

mechanical conveyors for screw, belt, chain, bucket elevators and pneumatic



The traditional material handling system suffer from some drawbacks listed


1. It increase the cost of manufacturing product

2. Some of the system are not safe for the health of the workers.

3. Costly equipments are required such as over head cranes, truck.

4. Shocks and vibrations are transmitted to the load which is dangerous to the

delicate load.

5. Omni directional movement of the load is not possible in small space with

small effort.

6. Maintenance and running cost of the equipment is very high.

7. Damage the floor surface.

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim. 4

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling


PRINCIPLES OF MATERIAL HANDLING :- The following main principles are

considered in the development of material handling system

UNIT LOAD PRINCIPLE :- Handle product in as large a unit load as practical.

SPACE UTILISATION PRINCIPLE :- Make effective utilization of all cubic space.

ERGONOMIC PRINCIPLE :- Recognise human capabilities and limitations by

designing material handling equipment and procedures for effective interaction with

the persons using the system.

ENERGY PRINCIPLE :- Energy consumption of the material handling system shall

be kept less and the material handling procedures to be well planned to keep the

energy requirement less.

ECOLOGY PRINCIPLE :- By this any adverse effect on the environment is kept

minimum by selecting proper material handling equipment and procedures.

MECHANISATION PRINCIPLE :- Mechanise the handling process where feasible to

increase efficiency and economy in the handling of materials.

FLEXIBILITY PRINCIPLE :- Use methods and equipment which can perform a

variety of tasks under a variety of operating conditions

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim. 5

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling


This is an innovative and cost effective solution for moving heavy loads by

utilising Air Casters . Air Casters equipment uses a variety of Air Casters to literally

float heavy loads on virtually frictionless film of air . Air Caster provide clean, quiet

and safe alternative to move heavy loads.

Reduced friction and omni directional movement allow the

operator to precisely place and align the load in a limited work space. The low profile

of Air Caster load module requires less than 3" (76mm) clearance. Air Caster will not

damage floors and expensive reinforcement is usually not necessary. One pound of

force will move 1000 pounds and one individual can move several tons with

complete control.


Prior to inflation, the load is solidly supported on landing pads. These pads

protect the Air-Caster's torus bag from being crushed when the load is rest as shown

in fig.(a)

When air is applied to the Air-Caster, the torus bag inflates,

creating a seal against the floor surface and raising as shown in fig.(b).

When the pressure within the chamber is sufficient to offset the

load's weight, air slowly and evently escapes between the flexible torus bag and the

floor. The load is literally floated on a thin, nearly frictionless cushion of air as shown

in fig.(c).

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim. 6

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim. 7

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling



It is the heart of the system. It is circular in shape from outside

and is made up of flexible materials. There are communication holes at the

predetermined location in these casters. Air Casters are sealed circumferentially to

the bottom of the base, depending upon the load to be lifted, the no. of Air Casters

may vary. Typically three to four casters are installed in one equipment.


Our control system console provide the operator with complete

control of the air and the load movement. There are two methods of controlling the

Air Casters with a hose manifold and with remote control box.

1. Hose Manifold

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim. 8

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling

This is the minimum requirement. The nose manifold include a ball valve to

turn the air bearing on and off. The manifold includes 4 X 15 between the Air


An option that may used in addition to the hose manifold in the lead control.

Master control pendant be used with a manifold. The master control manifold has a

button i.e. spring loaded. The operator must press the button to allow compressed

air to the Air Caster, if the operator releases the button or drop the hand control, the

air is automatically turn off.

2) Remote Control Box :-

This option uses a tool box like device that includes hoses to the Air Caster

connected to the control box is a hand held pendant. Located on the hand held

pendant are controls to adjust the pressure to each individual Caster.

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim. 9

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling

Include with the RC unit are 2X15 hose length, 2 X 25 hose length and all the

coupling between air Caster and control unit.


Compressor general reciprocating type are commonly present

industries These can be used for our purpose and have no need of separate




Platforms are constructed from rigid steel structures designed for carrying

heavy loads. For very heavy loads, the platform frame is constructed from mild steel

angles sometimes with I section beams for high strength but this in turn increases

the weight of platform. This frame is then welded with mild steel plates or aluminum


This platform is sometimes provided with air operated guide wheels.

Adequate arrangements are made for fitting air hoses and regulators to the platform.

A handle is provided to the platform to push/pull the platform. The handle need not

the strong because we have to exert a small force for moving the platform. A landing

pad is also provided at the base of the platform so that at rest or in periods of sudden

power failure, the load should not crush the torus bags (air casters).

4.3.2 AIR CASTERS :-

The air Casters used in all equipments are designed to provide optimum

balance, efficiency and durability. The material used for bags is 100% Urethane

which is known to have elastic strength, abrasion resistance and good mechanical

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim.  10

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling

strength. All the bags have same shape and size and have equal number of

communication holes to» provide good balance and alignment of the platform

parallel to the ground.

The thickness of the bags may vary from I mm. to 1.5 mm. for the safest

Caster. There is no chance of bursting of bags due to excess pressure because of

presence of communication holes in the bags.

The size can be varied according to load requirements. The size of air bags

can be standardized for all equipments because it does not affect much on the load

carrying capacity. What affects is the number of Caster, which can be varied

accordingly. The proper positioning of Casters is important from balancing point of

view of the load and its proper alignment.


Standard flexible hoses having a maximum pressure limit of 10 to 15 bars are

used. Pressure in this system never exceeds 3 to 4 bars and hence the hoses are

completely safe from failure.


It distributes air to various hoses, so it act as a distribution point. There are

pressure regulators incorporated in the console. An on/off ball valve is also

connected to the hose at inlet from compressor to switch on/off the air supply. The

main supply hose is similar to the other hoses.


It works by introducing air under pressure inside a closed chamber resting on

the ground. The loading weight "W" rests on the top of this chamber having an

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim.  11

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling

internal area "A" at the base, which is direct contact with surface on which it rests.

Since the air is unable to escape (because of flattening of air Casters), it inflates the

air Casters and thus raises the air pressure "P" inside the chamber. When the

pressure reaches a value such as "=W/A the upward force exerted by chamber

balances the load resting on the top. The load now floats freely on the ground

slightly. As soon as this happens air starts leaking from inside the chamber to the

outside atmosphere due to pressure difference. Air leakage is replenished by

pressurized air, which is being continuously supplied to the chamber. The load is

now clearly floating on the ground and thus can l)e moved in any direction by

applying very small force.

The actual working can be visualized in following steps :

Step 1: Prior to inflation the load is solidly supported on the landing pads. These

pads protect the Caster bags from being crushed when the system is at rest.

Step 2: When the standard ship of air is applied to the air Casters, the torus bags


Step 3 : When the pressure within the chamber is sufficient to offset the load to

weight, air slowly and evenly escapes between the flexible torus bags and the floor.

The load is literally flooded on a thin, nearly frictionless cushion of air (0.8 to 1mm


These Casters provide a clean, pivot and safe alternative to move heavy

loads, reduce friction and Omni directional movement allows the operator to

precisely and align load in a limited work place. It is easy to operate and plant air can

be used for operation.

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim.  12

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling


Fig. shows the operating characteristics of air caster trolley. The

characteristics (airflow vs. load) are very general and similar characteristics are

obtained for different configurations of air Casters.

In general the pressure requirements vary from 0.5 bar to 3.5 bar according

to the number of air Casters and load. For lifting a load of 15,000 Kg., air at a

pressure of approximate. 0.69 bar is required at a flow rate of 19 Lit./sec. With a

human effort of only 27 N. to move the load freely in any direction.

Air requirement at low-pressure air and quantity of air required is also

feasible. Air pressure requirements are low because of large supporting area under

the load.

Govt. Polytechnic, Washim.  13

Air Caster-A New Approach In Material Handling


AIR CASTERS g) Precise positioning is not possible
a) Highly efficient
h) Large force is required to operate
b) Low running cost
the system
c) Low initial cost
i) May damage the floor.
d) Maintenance free

e) Vibration free motion

f) Omni directional movement is

possible with in small space.

g) Precise positioning of load is


h) Small force is required to operate

the system.

i) No damage to the floor


a) Less efficient

b) High running cost

c) High initial cost

d) Regular maintenance is required

e) Vibrations are presents

f) Omni directional movement is not


Govt. Polytechnic, Washim.  14

*The contrast the two systems can be seen in the following example: Suppose a

load of 20,000 Kg. is to be handled inside a plant say steel coils. Using conventional

system say truck, fork lift etc. A normal 10 ton capacity truck can not out this

assignment. For that heavy duty truck is required whose fuel consumption is large

initial cost is large.

*With an air Caster handling system the same load can be moved with a manual

force of only 15 to 20 Kg. With air at pressure 0.6 bar and a flow rate of 18 lit./sec.

Here only 0.1% force is required as compared with conventional system. This

reduction is mainly because of reduction in friction. (Coefficient of friction reduces to

0.001 - 0.005).

Advantages of this system can be realized by having a look at the

comparison part. Besides those advantages the system has got following


* Low cost per kg. to lift the load -

* Smooth and easy movement. It eliminates outside rigging expenses, isolates

sensible calibration instruments from vibrations.

* Non marking operation to protect floor surface. Even distribution of loads to

minimize the stress on the floor.

* Cushioning effect, advantageous for moving delicate loads.

* Minimum space requirement around the load with no moving parts.

* Zero friction :- It is the more important advantage which is offered by gas

lubrication, the low viscosity of gas as compared with liquids can be exploited to
special benefit and also the absence of surface contact between the Air Caster

parts and floor.

* High Accuracy :- The high accuracy of motion that can be obtained with AIR-

CASTER is equally important in some material handling applications

* Silent and Smooth Operation :- In traditional system reciprocating and rotating

parts make noise which is eliminate here.

* Eliminates Oil :- AIR CASTER do not use oil lubrication, eliminating problems

associated with oil and are self-cleaning because positive air pressure pushes

dust away.


Though this system can be used in many industries as material handling

device but following are the important applications were this system is actually used.


Load Module Systems

Load Module Systems, using

three or more Load Modules,

can be inserted under any

size or shape load. The

capacity of our Load Module

Systems range from I ton up

to 360 tons or more.<Picture>

Aero-Plank Systems
Aero-Plank Systems are designed to be used with loads having a fixed width. Each

Aero-Plank is equipped with two or more Aero-Casters and each Aero-Plank

System may have two or more planks.


Aero-Pallets, with four or more

Aero-Casters, are designed to

operate under loads with

similar dimensions.

Aero space application

AeroGo has supplied specialized tooling for moving and positioning aircraft parts

rockets and satellites.

Boeing Helicopter, user

four specially designed

transporters to supports,

move and accurately

position the 20,000

pound center fuselage

assemblies of V-22 osprey. Electronically synchronized drives move each

transporter, equipped with air caster for assembles one section with other section of


The arians V solid rocket motor

segments are moved and

positioned in the motor

integration building at Guyanais

space center in French on a 240

ton capacity air caster equipped

with the transporter so that a

single operator is able to move

and position the 46 foot tall rocket motor accurately and easily.

Marine Applications

Air caster transport system for moving and positioning large structures in

shipbuilding, ship repair and other marine applications.

This 750 ton LNG tank

section is floated from

the assembly building at

Mitsubishi Heavy

Industries in Nagasaki
Japan onto a barge on Air caster, eliminating the need to rent an expensive floating



Safety plays an important roll in selecting and adopting any equipment.

Whenever there comes a new system some questions whose answers are key to its

acceptance. About the air Caster system following questions may arise:

a) Is the system safe for the workers and the load?

b) How can it fail?

c) What arrangement are there to avoid accidents ?

d) What will happen if the supply of compressed air is suddenly cut off?

The system is so constructed as to take care of all these difficulties . Less

effort required to operate the system avoid workers from fatigue. Since the load is

lifted just a few mm. off the ground and the gap between the bottom seal and

supporting surface is less than an mm. It results in enhanced safety both for workers

and other personnel in vicinity. In case of failure of compressed air supply for any

reason, the load gently sinks back to the supporting surface. The air trapped inside

air Casters or plenum chamber acting as a damping medium as it slowly leaks out.

Noise levels of the system is around 25-40 dB. Which is not harmful to human ears.

The system noise is compatible to that of a vacuum cleaner.


In conclusion one may say that the air cushioning system for moving heavy,

delicate and various other objects in industries are safe, versatile, proven and cost

effective. It exerts less pressure on the floor. In fact in some cases this might be the

only feasible alternative system. Air cushioning system can be widely applied to

many areas advantageously. This system has got an edge over the conventional


No doubt that it will take some time to be popular especially in the Indian

industries but the coming years will definitely see the wider adoption, more so in the

innovative and Hi-tech industries.


1) Engineering Advances-Jan 1997.

- D.Arivalagan

2) Industrial Products Finder - June 1997.

- Dr. C.N. Chablani

3) Hand book of Material Handling - I" edn. 1985

- R.G.T. Lindkvist


5) www. specialty