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Common Caster Mistakes to Avoid

Casters and wheels are the foundation of a safe, efficient and enduring material handling environment.

By: Jodi Fritsch, Contributor

Consider maintenance-free casters, such as Hamilton’s Spinfinity® Casters. These casters have a sealed swivel construction made from Nitrile butadiene rubber designed to keep grease in and contaminants out. Image courtesy of Hamilton Caster.

In the dynamic world of material handling, where the efficiency and safety of operations hinge on the reliability of equipment, the often-overlooked heroes are the casters and wheels. Both play a pivotal role in the seamless movement of loads through industrial environments, yet the intricacies of selecting the right ones are often underestimated.

Before you add casters or wheels to a cart, consider these common mistakes to avoid.

IGNORING LOAD LIMITS: THE PITFALLS OF OVERLOOKING CAPACITY REQUIREMENTS

Exceeding the recommended load capacity of casters can result in premature wear, damage, and failure. Most loads don’t maintain an even weight across the length and width of the platform. An off-center load could overload even the most durable casters. If a caster fails due to excessive weight, it can potentially cause injuries to workers and damage to products or infrastructure.

It’s crucial to accurately assess load requirements and choose casters that can accommodate the appropriate load capacity (including the weight of your cart!).

Pro Tip: For optimal load distribution and safety, the common mistake of dividing the load capacity by four overlooks crucial factors. Instead, we advise dividing by three to account for potential uneven floors and to ensure stability. There are two reasons for this: First, on uneven surfaces, three or fewer casters bear a greater load, emphasizing the importance of ensuring the load can be adequately supported by three casters for operator safety and equipment integrity. Second, unpredictable load distribution necessitates planning for potential shifts, whether due to floor irregularities or weight imbalances. Adjusting the load rating accordingly ensures a proactive approach to prevent potential issues.

MATERIAL MISMATCH: WHY THE RIGHT WHEEL MATTERS FOR YOUR ENVIRONMENT

Wheels are used in material handling because they significantly reduce the force required to move an object. Think about the force needed to push a heavy box across a floor. Static friction demands a specific applied force to initiate motion, and once in motion, dynamic friction insists on a consistent force to sustain it. The person exerting the force encounters a delicate balance: their applied force against the friction force generated by the box’s weight and the floor. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the factors that impact caster performance.

Will it navigate rough or uneven floor conditions? Is floor protection a priority? Does noise or speed play a role? Will the wheel be subjected to washdown or high-heat applications? These are the questions that guide the meticulous selections of the right caster and wheel.

The complexities within polyurethane wheels alone can create paralysis in selecting the right type. Add in metal, nylon, rubber and pneumatic, and it becomes even more crucial to comprehend the environment the wheel will be working in. Choosing caster materials unsuitable for the environment can have a significant impact on rolling resistance, triggering a waterfall effect of potential issues including compromised performance and durability, premature wear, failure and a more strenuous work environment.

Pro Tip: Casters and wheels come in various shapes, sizes and materials to match unique performance requirements. Some roll-on tracks and temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Others bear 40,000-pound loads inside and outside the factory. Gather application data and choose an industrial caster/wheel manufacturer (or distributor) that you trust to help you select the right caster. Taking these extra steps will prevent headaches down the road.

Hamilton, for example, has a product line featuring TerraTech® wheels with massive double-stacked, maintenance-free precision ball bearings that are designed for applications that require moving heavy loads at speeds up to 10 mph. Image courtesy of Hamilton Caster.

MAINTAINING MOMENTUM: WHY SPEED MATTERS

Most casters are rated for walking speed (3-5 mph), but sometimes the need for speed extends beyond this. Faster speeds require a caster that can not only withstand the increased velocity, but also the increased severity of impacts. When towing loads at accelerated paces, it becomes imperative to assess not only the wheel material but the bearing type as well.

Precision ball bearings can typically handle higher speeds and radial forces. These bearings are best for manual applications due to lower start-up forces. Wheels used in towing applications benefit from tapered wheel bearings as they run at higher speeds and encounter turns under load. These bearings are best for side load conditions as well as higher industrial speeds. Pushing the speed boundaries requires casters that can keep up without compromising performance or safety.

Pro Tip: Larger wheel diameters and axles, more robust swivel construction and bearing selection are critical components that enhance the overall performance and endurance of casters at higher speeds. Consider manufacturers that develop products specifically for high-speed applications so all factors are taken into account for the application.

OVERLOOKING SAFETY STANDARDS: DON’T PUT YOUR WORKPLACE AT RISK

According to the Spine Research Institute at The Ohio State University, over 1.3 billion people suffer from musculoskeletal disorders that lead to low back, neck, shoulder, and other joint pain. While the causal pathways of these disorders are influenced by a multitude of factors, the workplace environment is a consideration.

Adhering to safety standards ensures casters used in material handling meet specific load capacity, durability and design criteria. This compliance is directly tied to workplace safety, reducing the risk of accidents, injuries, and damage to both personnel and property. Following safety standards helps create a safer working environment by ensuring casters can withstand the demands of the application.

Pro Tip: Ask if the manufacturer is a member of the Institute of Caster and Wheel Manufacturers (ICWM), a Material Handling Institute (MHI) subgroup. Members are committed to safety and must adhere to certain criteria such as the American National Standard ANSI ICWM-2018, Vocabulary, Performance, and Testing Requirements for Casters and Wheels. This Standard is intended to guide owners, users, designers, purchasers, and/or specifiers of material handling equipment or systems.

NEGLECTING MAINTENANCE: THE SILENT KILLER OF CASTER LONGEVITY

According to Forbes, unplanned/unscheduled downtime represents one of the costliest events at any manufacturing plant. Specific to casters, failing to perform regular maintenance, such as cleaning and lubrication, can lead to the accumulation of foreign objects and debris on caster components. This accelerates wear and tear, shortening the lifespan of the casters and increasing the risk of failure and unplanned downtime.

Alternatively, planned downtime is a proactive approach to preventing breakdowns, and the build-up of contaminants within your caster to prolong the life of your equipment. Should you be using a caster that is not maintenance-free, it is important to implement a routine maintenance schedule that includes cleaning, inspection, and lubrication of caster components.

As we understand the pitfalls explored above, it becomes evident that the right caster choice is not just about functionality but a commitment to safety, efficiency, and longevity. So, before you proceed with your next caster purchase, remember the cardinal rules: respect load limits, choose materials wisely, embrace routine maintenance, adhere to safety standards and consider the often-underestimated factor — velocity. Each decision contributes to a chain reaction of reliability and performance in the workplace.

Never consider casters and wheels a commodity, rather consider them the foundation of a safe, efficient, and enduring material handling environment. WMHS

Jodi Fritsch is Director of Marketing at Hamilton Caster & Mfg. Co.  Since 1907 Hamilton Caster has built upon its family legacy of being the manufacturer of choice for heavy-duty industrial casters, wheels, carts and custom-engineered mobility systems, right here in the USA. www.hamiltoncaster.com.

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