Demolition Marks the Beginning of the End for Shuttle at Kennedy Space Center

High reach machine and attachment bring down massive structure used for assembling shuttle payloads




As if to put an exclamation point on the government’s decision to halt the U.S. space shuttle program, the first demolition of a structure associated with that program is under way at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). When operational, the building, known as the Vertical Processing Facility (VPF) was used to assemble full payload packages destined for space. Those packages (anything from satellites to replacement components) were then transferred to and loaded onto the shuttle itself. Having already been replaced by a newer, larger VPF, the building’s demolition was inevitable. Today the task of bringing down a piece of history is being headed up by Melbourne, Florida-based Frank-Lin Excavating, acting as a subcontractor to Speegle Construction of Cocoa Beach. And, like the shuttle itself, the manner in which they are doing so is both innovative and impressive: calling on a lot of machine (a demo-configured CAT 365C), a lot of reach (130-feet, courtesy of a Jewell front end) and a lot of processing power from a Genesis GXP 200R mobile shear.


Tall Order to Fill

At nearly 13 stories high and better than 10,000 square feet in area, the VPF is not your run-of-the-mill structure and, as such, demanded a special approach to bringing it down. According to Pete Charamut, Frank-Lin’s president and project manager, alternatives were explored before choosing the route they took.


“We considered everything including the most basic approach: using a crane with a headache ball,” he says. “But in a case like that, you are talking about smashing the building, sending all the outside material crashing to the ground to expose the beams. Then we would be faced with burning the beams, lowering them to the ground, rigging and lifting them for load out. You are talking about three times the time, three times the cost; it would be a whole different type of project.” 


Charamut says they had done other structures at KSC using a high reach and a larger Genesis LXP 300 processor. Having seen how quickly and safely those projects went, NASA was quickly on board with their approach. With a plan nailed down, the company contacted Mike Schulz at the Summerville, SC office of Kuhn Equipment Sales to put together a rental agreement for the demolition package they needed.


Salvage Operation

Before demolition could begin, Charamut’s crew spent four weeks inside the VPF structure, cutting and packaging up a range of equipment and materials that they had acquired as part of the contract.


“When we won the bid, we took control of everything inside,” he says. “That includes electronics; a heat-sensor camera system; a lot of MCC panels; air-reels and water reels; even an air barge—essentially a pallet jack that can move 54,000 lb. loads across a room on a cushion of air. In addition to that, we became the owners of a pair of overhead cranes that we actually used to help us with the project. Afterwards, we marketed them online and they sold quickly.”


The part of the project in which those overhead cranes played a role was in the dismantling of a seven story service structure located at the rear of the building. Charamut says they were able to use the Genesis shear to make cuts of the structural steel, bring the bridge cranes to it, and lower the sections down to ground—a much better tactic than what he says they first considered. 


“Our initial game plan was to remove the entire back wall, cut the legs out from under the service structure and trip it back—a technique we’ve used many times before. But this was a 400-ton structure and, given that size, we didn’t feel entirely comfortable with that approach. So we went with a better alternative and it definitely went well. The service structure was made up of some really hearty steel, so I was impressed with how much of it the GXP 200R—the smaller of two Genesis attachments we have onsite— was able to cut. It really did an outstanding job for us.”


Power by Design

Much of Charamut’s satisfaction with the Genesis attachment stems from the power the tool was bringing to bear on the VPF job. According to Steve Letko, Genesis’ R&D Manager, that power is an inherent trait designed into every XP Series shear, “One of the main characteristics of the XP Series shear—including the GXP 200R being used by Frank-Lin—is a large-bore, long-stroke cylinder. That feature alone, we’ve proven, provides power increases of 20% at the apex and 10% at the throat and piercing tip. It doesn’t surprise me that they are impressed with what it has been able to do out there, given its relatively small size. This is, after all, the most powerful line of shears we’ve ever designed.”


The full package delivered by Kuhn Equipment included the Genesis shear, a 130-foot-long reach boom from Jewell Attachments (Portland, OR), and a CAT 365C excavator with tilt cab. Frank-Lin’s operator says the entire demo package has performed well and helped keep the job on track. “This has been an outstanding job so far and a lot of that success has to do with the equipment we’ve chosen to get it done. Everything from the tilt cab, which is unbelievably helpful when using a long-reach front end like this, to the control and power we have with the Genesis shear, has met—and in some cases exceeded—our expectations. That’s important on a job of this size.”


Beams are a Pushover

Once Frank-Lin removes the roof, the balance of the service structure and all the steel formwork that makes up the walls, all that will remain will be a series of huge structural beams, each of which, when exposed, resembles an inverted letter “U”. The beams are secured to plates at grade with huge bolts.


“When we did a building similar to this—but smaller—we wrestled with those beams,” says Charamut. “We took the high lift and wrapped cables around each one and then pulled them over with a big dozer. They would lean over and eventually snap and fall. It was very nerve wracking. And, because we had to determine where to make the right cut, then spend many, many, hours actually cutting, it was also time-consuming.”


On the VPF, to deal with those 1 ¼- to 1 ½-inch beams that reportedly have a 27-inch web and a 14-inch flange, Charamut says they will take a different, surprisingly simplistic approach.”


“We have learned that if we cut the bolts off the pads, flush with the plate on the bottom, then simply tap each arched-beam from behind using the high-reach, it will just topple. Once it is on the ground we will torch it and send the prepared scrap off to Trademark Metals located about 15 miles from here.”

Minimizing Disposal Costs

A good portion of the material being demolished at the VPF site is being recycled. Charamut expects to recover between 600 and 700 tons of ferrous metal alone, as well as decent volumes of nonferrous, concrete, asphalt and more.


“We will take the concrete and asphalt from this job to a facility we helped NASA set up: the Diverted Aggregate Recycled Concrete Yard or DARCY.  There, it is recovered and reused; what can’t be recycled is taken to a NASA owned and operated landfill here at KSC. So, essentially, we incur no dump or disposal fees at all. However, we bid the job with this in mind and factored that in.”


Though the length of the project takes them through to the end of the year, Frank-Lin rented the demo package from Kuhn Equipment for just 30 days—an indication of the confidence they had in both its performance and its reliability.


“Kuhn Equipment is outstanding in their support,” says Charamut, “so we knew we were in good hands. They are very fair and always provide good, reliable equipment that’s built to perform on delivery. So, barring any natural disaster, we know we will be done within that 30-day window. The second machine we have at the VPF site, a CAT 330C with the LXP 300, is ours on a rental purchase option and we intend to buy it. We’ve really come to appreciate what these attachments can do for us and feel that LXP has a place in future projects.”

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