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With the launch of our new web site, we’ve added a blog. Here we’ll keep you updated on the latest news and trends for safety in the material handling industry. That may cover many topics, from the latest forecasts for manufacturing and material handling, updates in regulations and standards from OSHA and ANSI, as well as some of our safety gate installations and custom work.

On the blog you’ll also find updates from some of the organizations we belong to, like MHEDA and MHI, as well as MHI’s ProGMA Committee.

We’re looking forward to sharing our news and views with you, and if there is a topic you would like us to touch on, just let us know.

Securing Areas with Limited Depth: A Case Study

We all know that distribution centers, material handling, manufacturing facilities are getting larger - often growing up, adding levels onto the existing facility. Even as facilities grow larger, there are pallet drop areas where space is limited for employees and product. Often these pallet drop areas are integrated with conveyors, walkways, hoppers or other obstructions. The lack of space has seemingly taken away the ability for safety systems to be installed; but safety is a necessity, as even though space is limited, these areas can pose great risk for employees. The areas must be properly guarded, and there are solutions that can be used.

Recently a large flavor and fragrance company reached out to us to help them secure the ledges of their pallet drop areas. There were many issues that needed to be addressed; a big one being a serious fall hazard. Employees were working at levels over ten feet off of the ground in order to accommodate the large hoppers being used in the operations. Employees picked from pallets at the ledge, and then dumped bags of ingredients into hoppers for processing; this operation invited employees towards to the unguarded ledges and lifting heavy bags of ingredients from that location. Not to mention, the area was dusty and hot due to the nature of the business, and the repetitive labor was a recipe for injury.

In addition, the material was comprised of food products, so any guarding solution would have to be manufactured out of stainless steel with specific sanitary requirements.

And, perhaps most challenging, was the limited amount of depth on the platform due to the location of the hoppers, which were designed close to the ledge so the operator didn’t have to move far to load the ingredients. The customer wanted a dual-gate system to keep the area secure, but a traditional solution such as a Roly or Pivot gate would take up too much space on the platform.

The solution we provided was the Tri-Side safety gate, which uses fixed stanchions only 14” deep and a rear-side gate that cantilevers off of the stanchions and raises up and out of the way to provide access to pallets. The rear-side gate is interconnected and counterbalanced with a gate at the ledge so one gate is always in the closed position securing the area.

Upon our suggestion, lift tables were installed at the pallet drop locations to position the pallet at an ergonomic height while the pallet is unloaded by hand. The Tri-Side safety gates were designed to fit around the tables and the pallets, and were manufactured out of electro-polished stainless steel. The gate also included all stainless hardware and capped ends specifically designed to meet the end user’s sanitary requirements.

No matter how difficult you think the area may be, there is likely a solution. Make sure to reach out to a company that specializes in pallet drop guarding solutions so they can work with you to design a dual-gate solution specific for the area that provides protection at all times.

AGVs and the Roly Safety Gate: A Case Study

In one instance, we worked with a customer with a large, multi-level distribution center to equip our Roly® safety gates with the proper technology to interact with their AGVs that were loading and unloading material to pallet drop areas on elevated work platforms. The Roly safety gate model uses dual, counterbalanced gates to maintain a safe environment at all times. The customer sent us the sensors that they wanted to use, and we designed the way our Roly safety systems would detect and interact with the sensors used in the facility.

We equipped the gates with the sensors to allow the AGV to determine if the ledge gate of the Roly safety gate was open or closed. In addition, we mounted photo eyes to the rear post of the gate in order to detect workers that were loading and unloading the pallet loads that the AGVs were providing. Photo eyes worked with the sensors to ensure the ledge-side gate was in place when it detected workers on the platform, providing safety for the workers on the upper levels.

We also installed power operation to each Roly unit and integrated the sensors so that when the ledge gate is up, sensors send information to the AGV, telling it that material can be loaded into the pallet drop area. Once the pallets are loaded into the work area, the sensors send a signal to close the ledge-side of the Roly gate and the workers can then work with the material that was loaded into the area.

As AGVs, robots and other unmanned vehicles continue to be integrated into operations in material handling, we’ll see more need for this kind of wireless control for any device in the facility to make operations more efficient. We can include all kinds of wireless controls to our safety gates in order for machines and employees to operate them - regardless of the gate model, depth, width or height.

Do you have an application that needs safety with added technology? Does your facility have existing safety gates that need to be retrofitted with technology to work with AGVs? Let us know - we can help!

Technology: Incorporating Safety into AGV Pallet Drop Operations

The manufacturing industry is abuzz about the robot revolution. Automatic guided vehicles’ (AGVs) role in the supply chain and material handling has been increasing, and they are increasingly working side by side with humans in facilities like warehouses and distribution centers.

These vehicles, like driverless lift and forktrucks to material moving robots, get integrated into the facility infrastructure and operational processes. AGVs use technology to move throughout the facility - most often using Proximity Laser Scanners and Laser Scanner Interface technologies. These technologies help the AGVs determine objects and locations in the facility, as well as integrate with other facility machinery and equipment.

AGVs are programmed to follow a guidepath - in distribution centers and warehouses, they often move pallets and containers of material from one place to another. With no driver, the machines are being told where to load and unload the materials being moved, often through the use of PLS technology.

The rise of AGVs is allowing material handling systems to grow in size; today’s facilities are much bigger and taller. Warehouses and distribution centers today employ both persons and machines to get the work done more efficiently.

ANSI B56.5 outlines safety standards for the use of AGVs in an industrial facility, but it primarily looks at the space required for the vehicles, load stability, sound requirements and emergency controls for stopping the vehicle. Because the vehicles are driverless, the standards do not look at safety of the workers interacting with vehicles outside of emergency stops and sensors to keep from running into people at ground level.

Even with the AGVs, there is a need to keep the persons working with and around the AGVs safe. It’s still very important to guard areas that material is being passed into...there are also regulations that mandate workers are kept safe in these pallet drop areas - especially upper levels. Dual-gate systems like our line of safety gates are needed to keep workers safe.

Many material handling operations place people in the elevated workstation in which the AGVs are loading and unloading material in pallet drop areas that are two or three stories tall. This scenario is very common and requires fall protection for workers that are working the pallet in these drop areas.

We have worked with many companies that use AGVs in their facilities to integrate the important safety systems into their workflow. To be most efficient and keep operations proficient, is important that the AGV can interact with safety gates. Because they are unmanned, the AGVs need a way to understand if the pallet area is available for unloading and loading material without relying on an employee to perform any extra steps.

Next week we'll outline a job that we did with our Roly safety gate for an operation that uses AGVs.

Safety in Rack Modules: The Case for Rack Supported Systems

Most distribution centers utilize rack modules in their operations in order to maximize storage space and operational efficiency. Rack modules can be designed in a wide variety of configurations depending on the applications. Often these configurations require space for workers to pick from the pallet drop areas throughout the rack structure, or to stack empty pallets and empty totes into open bays.

When workers are involved in operations on elevated work platforms and pick modules, it’s necessary to plan for safety and fall protection. There are a number of ways safety can be achieved, and industry standards like those issued by ANSI and OSHA require a dual-gate system. Safety advantages provided by dual-gate systems, like the models we offer, ensure that workers are safe at all times; when the ledge gate is open, the rear-side gate is closed, preventing the worker from access to the ledge. When the rear-side gate is open, the ledge-side gate closes, providing a safe, enclosed workstation while the bay is picked.

A dual-gate system also keeps the picker a safe distance from the lift truck loading a pallet, as a fixed barrier will be in place while the pallet is being pushed into the bay. This creates a physical barrier between the picker and a pallet being pushed into the area with the force of a lift truck.

A dual-gate safety system is now a standard in the industry, so the decision to install them to secure picking positions and empty pallet return bays is obvious. But the real decision is what type of dual-gate system. There are dual-gate pivot and Roly models, both of which will maintain a safe environment at all times; there are also rack-supported and free-standing gates.

A Pivot Gate has few moving parts and is often the most economical choice, but keep in mind that this design needs room for the gates to pivot, or arc, when operated. When the pivot gate is in use, the ledge-side gate extends out into the truck aisle, and the rear-side gate extends back into the picking aisle. This often is not an issue, but can be if the picking aisle is narrow, or if the lift truck is loading multiple levels.

A Roly Gate solves this issue as the design uses gates that open and close flush within the confines of the rack structure, so the ledge-side gate opens flush with the ledge, and the rear-side gate opens flush with the rear-side column.

Both of these designs are available in both free-standing and rack-supported configurations. When operations needs flexibility, and pallet drop areas frequently move locations within the facility, a freestanding safety gate model can be used efficiently within a rack module. The free-standing gate can be unbolted from the decking, moved to another location, then re-secured. We have seen this work well for some unique material handling operations, and with companies that require a flexible layout.

The other option is Rack-Supported safety gates. This style attaches directly to the existing rack uprights instead of being lagged down into the decking. The rack-supported model has three main advantages over a freestanding model: (1) space savings, (2) more secure connections and (3) cost savings. By utilizing the existing pallet racks for support, the rack-supported model takes up a minimum amount of space in the rack bay, gets tied into the entire rack system and uses few components.

You’ll also have to decide on the size of the safety gate. Because we’re talking about integrating with a rack-module, the existing bay size determines the width of the gate, but you’ll need to decide on the depth and the height that is required. The safety gate needs to be deep enough to accommodate the pallet without being so deep that it projects too far into the picking aisle. With a standard 48” deep pallet, the safety gate should provide a minimum of 56” in clearance to provide room to load the pallet into the area. Because most uprights are only 48” deep, often the safety gate will extend beyond the upright, either back into the picking aisle or into the lift-truck aisle with a platform extension. The safety gate should be made tall enough to accommodate the tallest pallet with some room factored in for fork truck lift-off space, and to allow pickers room to enter the bay to work the pallet, without being too tall that the raised gate is difficult to reach. Sometimes a beam may need to be removed to provide adequate height.

Many dual-gate systems that are both free-standing and rack-supported can be power operated with remote radio frequency controls. To learn more about whether or not to power operate a pallet drop gate, please see this blog post on the subject.

The decision to secure picking positions in a multi-level rack picking module should be an easy one. Where it gets complicated is deciding on which safety gate will best fit your application and how it should be sized and configured. This is where a professional in the industry should be consulted, either through a material handling consultant, distributor, or by reaching out to us.