Air Hockey with Locomotives


The Situation

G.E. Transportation, the largest North American producer of diesel locomotives, wanted to reduce assembly times and decrease costly work-in-process (WIP) inventories at its Erie, Penn., facility.  The company had been using overhead cranes to move the locomotives from workstation to workstation.  This inevitably led to costly idle time spent waiting for slow-moving cranes.  Workers were also prohibited from walking beneath lift loads, causing additional inefficiency.


Airfloat designed and built custom air bearing transporters, allowing G.E. to create the world’s first moving assembly line for locomotives, which workers euphemistically refer to as “the world’s largest air hockey table.”  A pair of transporters, each equipped with electric drive units and guide wheels, is placed beneath the locomotive deck at the beginning of the line.  Then the 75-ft.-long structure is floated on air by a single operator to subsequent assembly stations, where the engine, cab and other components are added.

As they approach the end of the assembly line, the locomotive assemblies weigh over 300,000 lbs.  In the final stage, the assembly is lifted off the transporters by crane and placed onto a set of “trucks” (or wheel assemblies).


The Airfloat equipment helped the Erie facility boost its output from 17 to 22 locomotives per month – a 29% gain. The company was so pleased with the results that it designed its new Fort Worth, Texas, factory with air bearing equipment in mind.

A clip from TV’s Modern Marvels shows diesel locomotives under construction floating on air.


Video uploaded by U Tube user  

GE Locomotives

Now this is Right with The Ship.

From the people at GE:

We’re  determine to solve the world’s biggest problems.  By putting our collective imagination to work for a better future, we might get there yet.  Is it possible to change the world?  At GE, we are doing it one idea at a time.

Ten years and countless hours of research later, GE introduced Trip Optimizer, a breakthrough locomotive technology that functions much like autopilot on an airplane, or cruise control in a car.  Essentially, there is a computer running the train, and by taking into account factors such as the train’s length and weight, track conditions, weather and locomotive performance, Trip Optimizer ensures that the train is operating at optimal efficiency.

Bright minds build powerful locomotives.  Americans who grew up playing with toy trains have become the GE employees who are at work designing and engineering the technology that fuels trains all across America.  Slowly but surely, science is catching up to our imagination.

GE Locomotive

Video uploaded by U Tube user 


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