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HarbisonWalker International Launches Lift-Assist Robot Designed for Refractory Industry

HarbisonWalker International (HWI), the largest supplier of refractory products and services in North America, has introduced the new MULE-R (Material Unit Lift Enhancer - Refractory). The MULE-R is a first of its kind, lift assist technology designed expressly for the refractory industry that provides workers with numerous safety, ergonomic, and productivity benefits while placing refractory materials in manufacturing environments.

The device has been created in partnership with Construction Robotics, developers of the original MULE, which is used for concrete block placement in the construction industry. The MULE-R has been adapted with a vacuum gripper specifically designed for handing refractory bricks in tight working spaces. It is available through HWI and its partner D. Martin Enterprises, a distributor of HWI products for the steel industry.

"Anyone who's ever lined a steel ladle knows it can be physically demanding. The safety and workforce benefits of this technology for our installers and customers are tremendous," said Don Abrino, Senior Director of Outside Technology and Open Innovation.

"As proven in the construction industry, the MULE-R greatly extends a worker's ergonomic range, reducing the likelihood of strain and injuries, while allowing for greater productivity, efficiency, and an improved work environment." added Abrino.

Unlike some other lift assist devices that have been available for manufacturers, the MULE-R is inherently fit for heavy construction, so it works exceptionally well in refractory installation environments. The free-standing device is simple and intuitive for users to operate.

Adaptation for refractory industry use of the Construction Robotics' original MULE technology evolved out of HWI's Open Innovation program at the company's Advanced Technology Research Center (ATRC). As part of its continued commitment to advance industry technologies, HWI created the Open Innovation program in 2017 to apply technologies and best practices from across all industries for refractory innovations.

"We've designed the MULE to work alongside humans, rather than replacing them. Our innovations are borne out of finding ways for workers to benefit from a machine taking the physical strain out of the work, or increasing production speed," said Scott Peters, president and co-founder, Construction Robotics.

"We're excited to innovate with HWI to deliver refractory solutions. With so many similar challenges in materials handling, serving the refractory industry is a natural extension of our mission to develop affordable, leading-edge robotics and automation equipment," added Peters.

Currently, the MULE-R supports the installation of steel industry refractory bricks for argon oxygen decarburization (AOD), electric arc furnace (EAF) processes, or ladle installation end-users. The product is now readily available for steel industry customers, and HWI is working to adapt the technology for customers in other industries and applications.

MULE-R product orders include a comprehensive inspection, maintenance, and training service package. For more information, contact Mark Zikesch, applications specialist with HWI's Value Added Service team at 219-299-4575, or Jason Crawford at D. Martin Enterprises at 219-872-8211.


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