Gearbox Rebuilds for the Next Generation of Space Exploration

The world’s largest moving land vehicle needed an upgrade, NASA’s crawler transporter at the Kennedy Space Center was a 60 year old machine originally designed by Marion Power Shovel. Beginning with the lower roller assemblies in 2013, L&H manufactured and installed over 1300 parts in order to increase the payload of the giant shuttle transporter. Additionally, the transporter’s 16 gearboxes needed to be rebuilt as well.

Each gear box, consisting of 3 assemblies would need to be disassembled, cleaned, inspected, repaired, replaced with new components and bearings and then reassembled. The project would be time consuming and repetitive, but quality was extremely important and everything would have to be double and triple checked for accuracy.

continuous quality and accuracy

Spanning eight months, L&H began to receive a few gearboxes at a time, rebuilt the assemblies and sent them back to the Kennedy Space Center. Additionally, when the finished gearboxes arrived on site at the space center, a second team of L&H quality personnel and field technicians measured bore sizes and checked temperatures with multiple rounds of taking hard measurements of the components.

The gearbox rebuilds for NASA were different from other industries L&H works with because of “the consistent precision and detail required over and over for all the gearboxes,” said Keegan Rogers, L&H’s project coordinator. “The work was repetitive, but needed to be precise each and every time.” In addition to the level of precision and detail on the project, the paperwork and approval process required before beginning any work was also different from other industries L&H has previously worked with. Greg Trana, a mechanic at our Gillette facility, worked on the project writing QA reports after teardown to make recommendations on repairs and replacements of the assemblies. Trana believes L&H has gained new capabilities and valuable knowledge from this project. “I think as a company we learned a lot, documentation of all aspects of the project requires a lot of time and work, but it is definitely beneficial to have if there is ever a need to go back and review a portion of the project.”

Growth and diversification

With new capabilities, knowledge and the opportunity to work in a new industry, the NASA roller assemblies and the gearbox rebuilds have shown the industry what we can do and also introduced us to a new market. Rogers thinks the gearbox project says a lot about L&H as a company, “We are very quality driven, not just at the management level, but even through production and their commitment to quality across the board. We have a lot of vision and drive here. To take on a project like this says something about our eagerness for new challenges, no matter how intimidating they may seem at first. We can do just about anything at L&H, and we continue to always do more.”

Teamwork and success

Finalized in November 2015, all of the gearboxes were on site and ready for final tests and inspections by NASA and Vencore. In a final e-mail to Rogers, a NASA engineer said the following about L&H and our team, “The data suggests that L&H did an outstanding job on every one of the sixteen gearboxes, in order for the running torques to be so consistent. This level of on-going high workmanship on such a large sample of repetitive work is outstanding. The combination of gearbox R&R plus line boring by you guys, along with the installation by TOSC was flawless. It has been an honor for me, and really a pleasure to work with you all over the last few years.”

L&H team members feel the same about working with NASA and Vencore. Trana described, “Not only was it cool to work on something with NASA, but all the people were great to work with as well.” Rogers agreed, “it was a pleasure to work with the NASA and the Vencore team. Working together on something so iconic as the shuttle transporter was an honor as well.”

Both Trana and Rogers attribute the success of this project to team work and the dedication to quality throughout L&H’s machine and mechanic shops, engineering, coordination and management, “It’s teamwork that gets the job done,” Trana said.