Many materials handling activities involve strenuous or repetitive activities, such as lifting loads, installing a component, or picking products into totes. Those physical stresses could lead to worker injury and additional costs associated with lost productivity and downtime. Ergonomic equipment is used in many facilities to help the task fit the worker, instead of forcing the worker to fit the task. A variety of ergonomic assist systems improve the safety and well-being of operators working in manufacturing and warehousing facilities. Typical applications include lifting a worker or the item to the appropriate height to comfortably complete a task, tilting a load for picking, elevating or rotating a component for additional assembly, or supporting a load during its movement.
Ergonomic systems come in a variety of styles to support workers as they perform various tasks, including:
Adjustable worker elevation platform or personnel lift: Portable or stationary, these lifts raise and lower a worker to appropriate working heights so that tasks can be performed at a safe reaching level. The platforms are mechanically driven and manually adjustable, allowing the operator to control his or her position relative to the task at hand.
Work positioner: One of a variety of styles of equipment that supports or elevates a load—either from the bottom up or overhead—to place it at the optimal working height for an operator to complete a task. Types include:
- Balancer: An overhead device that lifts and lowers loads by supporting the weight completely. This allows the operator to easily maneuver the load. They are frequently used for awkward and/or rapid load movements, or to suspend equipment used in a repetitive operation.
- Drum turner: Equipment that turns over drums for filling and emptying.
- Lift table, scissors lift, or industrial scissor lift: A portable or stationary device supported and stabilized by pantograph legs that lifts loads from the bottom up. The unit positions material so operators do not have to lift excessive loads, lift repetitively, or bend to do their jobs. Options may include a tilting mechanism to angle the load, or a turntable to rotate a load so an operator can easily access all sides.
- Manipulator: A mechanical arm equipped with an end effector attachment—such as tooling or fixtures including a gripper or forks—to handle different types of loads. As a manual movement assist device, a manipulator counteracts the weight of the load to render it nearly weightless by using hydraulic or pneumatic power. They are either stationary or portable.
- Stacker: A manually propelled lift truck that moves, raises and positions wire baskets, tote boxes, crates, skids and pallets to comfortable ergonomic work heights. Loads are mast-supported. Stackers can be outfitted with platforms, adjustable forks or fixed forks and hold capacities from 250 to 3,000 pounds. Attachments and accessories include devices for handling barrels, coils or rolls. An operator-controlled walkie stacker is a powered device that lifts, stacks and transports pallets.
- Tilter: A device which mechanically angles a container, box or bin towards the worker for easier loading and unloading of parts. Proper positioning eliminates bending, stretching, reaching and unnecessary lifting. Tilters can be portable or stationary.
- Vacuum lifter: A device utilizing an electric-powered extraction pump and sealed pads to create a vacuum to attach the lifter to an object. Typically used to handle fragile or lighter loads that cannot be picked up with a gripping action.
Workstation, work table or work bench: Comprised of a horizontal surface whose height can be vertically adjusted to accommodate workers of various heights and physiques, a Workstation is commonly used in assembly and manufacturing operations. It provides a space where components or finishing processes can be added to a work-in-process.
Cart: A manually pushed plastic or metal platform that rides on casters or wheels to move items within a facility. Carts can be equipped with drawers, bins, trays or flat surfaces to secure items for transport and storage. A lift cart is a hand cart with a scissor- or mast- supported lifting platform.
Hand truck or walk behind fork truck: A type of fork truck for pallet load movement that is powered. Its movement is directed by an operator who walks behind the vehicle instead of riding on it.
Pallet rotator or pallet inverter: For transferring of a full case load from one pallet to another, this device makes it easy to transfer the entire stack by mechanically inverting, or flipping it over, 180 degrees—instead of removing and restacking by hand. These systems can also be used to replace a damaged pallet or to pull crushed, damaged, or broken containers or bags from the bottom of a stacked load.
Ergonomic systems are used in a variety of areas throughout a facility to support workers performing processing and handling tasks:
- Assembly: Securing and elevating products for production processes
- Picking: Lifting a container to a comfortable height for removal or placement of items
- Positioning: Angling or rotating a load so the operator can perform required tasks without bending, stretching or reaching
- Transportation: Facilitating load movement with wheels or powered propulsion
- Storage: Transporting heavy items to and from storage areas
Ergonomic systems provide a variety of benefits:
- Reduced risk of injury – By doing the heavy lifting, ergonomic systems take strain off operators, reducing fatigue and lowering the risk of injury.
- Positioning – Ergonomic systems precisely maneuver loads to the most comfortable height for the operator.
- Reduce labor expenses – Ergonomic systems reduce the chance of worker injury, decreasing downtime and loss of productivity.
- Safety – Because they support proper handling techniques, ergonomic systems reduce or eliminate potential physical stresses or strains on workers.
Ergonomic systems assist in the lifting, positioning and movement of any type of load whether small or large, heavy loads or repetitive movements throughout a facility in a variety of industries, including:
- Commercial printing
- Consumer goods
- Materials processing
- Warehousing and distribution