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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.

Safety: 3 Ways to Keep Productivity Intact

In today’s business environment, productivity is key to success. Regardless of the size of the business, productivity depends on employees, equipment and the operations workflow.

Operations and processes are changing too, but there is still a need for safety. AGVs, robots and other unmanned vehicles continue to be integrated into operations in material handling, we’ll see more need ensuring safety devices can communicate with these devices to keep productivity and efficiency intact.

Safety is a necessity in any operation - from manufacturing to material handling to distribution. Some safety managers may see safety devices as an impediment, worrying about adding in any additional equipment or processes to existing operations. However, we’d strongly argue that safety devices serve a need - keeping workers from falling or being injured on the job. In addition, safety doesn’t have to impede operations, and in fact, safety can help make processes more efficient.

Ideally, we like to design our line of dual-gate safety devices to be manually operated. Manual operation creates the highest level of safety because the worker on the platform is the only person controlling the opening and closing of the gate. This can be very important for any material handling or manufacturing application in which lift trucks or AGVs are involved. However in some instances, the manual operation of the gate may be slowed due to the nature of the application, which then slows operations and productivity.

If you are concerned that a safety device may impede operations or slow productivity, consider the following options to ensure your employees are protected and your productivity doesn’t slow down.

Power Operation:
If an operation requires access to the safety gate remotely, we offer power-operation for any of our safety gate models, which can save time in operations in which lift trucks are depositing material to upper levels. Push button controls allow for employees on lower and upper levels to open and close the safety gates to load and unload material.

All of the power-operated systems we offer include built-in safety features like photo eyes that detect the presence of a person or object and prevent the gates from closing, along with a adjustable clutch that will engage if the gate were to make contact with an object.The motors have built-in safety features and numerous controls that can be used, like radio frequency remotes on the lift truck, and flashing lights and caution alarms.

Wireless Controls and Sensors:
Adding controls or sensors to the safety devices can also speed operations, especially in those that incorporate AGVs. Safety gates can be equipped with sensors to allow the AGV to determine if the ledge gate of the safety gate was open or closed. Photo eyes posted on the gate can also work with sensors to ensure the ledge-side gate is in place when it detects workers on the platform, providing safety for the workers on the upper levels.
Controls can also be integrated with the safety gate power operation so that when the ledge gate is up, sensors send information to an 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 safety gate and the workers can then work with the material that was loaded into the area.

Software Integration:
Software integration with safety gates can help track product and processes in a facility’s operations. For example, one customer wanted to tie in the operation of the safety gate with their processing computers so the system could track ingredients to each pallet drop area. By using power operation, the safety gate power station can be wired into a facility’s system so the computers can record when the safety gates were operated. The integration can track the cycles of the safety gate to determine what had been delivered, what had been processed and which area needed to be replenished. It can also track the time it takes to do each task.

Safety devices do not need to impede on a facility’s processes or workflow. Power operation, wireless controls and sensors and software integration can be added to our any of our safety gate models - regardless of the gate model, depth, width or height. Contact us if you’d like to learn more about how safety devices can truly integrate into your facility’s operations and processes.

Facility Safety: Securing Tight Elevated Areas

Space is always a concern in industrial facilities. It’s important to maximize the space that is available for equipment, workers and the operations process.

Companies often maximize the available cubic space by building elevated platforms/mezzanines, but then are concerned with effectively utilizing this additional space. With this space being taken up with shelving, product and equipment there is often little room left available for operations, let alone safety devices.

Production platforms in facilities are notorious for tight spaces as they are filled with hoppers, reactors, and ingredients. These areas almost always use employees to load ingredients into the hopper to mix/produce their end product.

We recently worked with a chemical company to make their production facility safer. The company’s safety manager was looking to secure a number of areas in which a lift truck deposited material on an elevated platform next to a hopper. The pallets of bagged ingredients are deposited very close to the hopper so the employees can just cut the bags open, turn and pour them into the hopper. Space was very limited for employees, and they did not think there was room for a proper safety system.

Our engineers know that there is no such thing as too little space when it comes to safety. After reviewing the requirements and application, the team determined the best safety system for their production areas was our Tri-Side safety gate model. With dual-counterbalanced gates interconnected so one gate is always in place to secure the ledge, and fixed stanchions only 14 inches deep, the Tri-Side gate was the ideal solution for the application because it maintained a safe environment at all times while allowing access around the pallet.

The Tri-Side gates provided safety on the platforms and allowed workers to continue their operations with clear unobstructed access to the loads. Because of the Tri-Side design, the bags of ingredients could be moved to either side at 90 degrees very easily, and dumped into the hopper, all while the ledge gate is down, protecting workers from the ledge side. And, in different areas of the plant, some units were provided in stainless while other areas were powder coated depending on the environment.

For this application the customer was also concerned with securing not only the personnel up on the platform but also their product. We included special ledge-side gates with solid metal panels to prevent the bags from falling off of the ledge. With this configuration, the operators could pick the ingredients from the pallet within a safe environment.

Software Integration

Our customer also wanted to tie in the operation of the safety gate with their processing computers so the system could track the ingredients to each pallet drop area. We power operated the safety gate with a commercial jackshaft operator and a push-button station for open, close and stop. The customer then wired the unit into their system so the computers would record when the safety gates were operated. With their own software, they were able to record the cycles of the safety gate to determine what had been delivered, what had been processed and which area needed to be replenished.

If you have an area with limited space that you need to secure, consider the Tri-Side gate. We make it in custom sizes, custom finishes and power operated. It can also be designed in a rack-supported design to install into pick module.

Safety in Pick Modules: Case Study

Pick modules have become popular in many facilities, especially distribution centers. Many distribution centers fulfill thousands of orders each day, using pallet rack to support conveyors and flow systems.

Distribution centers are large by design - often huge buildings that are thousands of square feet and many levels. The pick modules in distribution centers can be multiple levels high and integrate with racks, conveyors and storage solutions. Safety in multi-level pick modules can be tricky, but it’s very important to keep employees working on the upper levels safe from falling.

We’ve worked with many companies with large distribution centers. Recently, we worked with one that utilized several pick modules in their operations where staged pallets were picked by an operator at the ledge, and empty pallets and totes were staged for removal. The facility is extremely busy, fulfilling millions of orders each week. The safety manager knew that they needed a dual-gate system to meet industry standards and regulations, as well as to keep employees working on the upper levels safe.

The safety manager also knew that a freestanding structure would not work for the facility, as they needed as much space as possible within the rack bay. Also, the takeaway conveyor was in close proximity to the picking operator so the safety gate structure couldn’t obstruct that operation.

Our engineering team worked with the facility safety managers to install Rack Supported Roly® safety gates for their facility. Because a freestanding structure would take up too much space and disrupt operations, the safety gates attached directly to the rack, picking up a few inches of space in the bay width and staying clear from the picking aisle. That extra space made a big difference in the pick module, allowing for fork truck drivers to place pallets easily into drop areas, and provided room for the operators to pick from the pallet.

Because the Rack Supported safety gates were attached directly to the rack in the pick modules, the gates also did not lag into the decking on the upper levels which might not have been able to support that weight. Instead, the gates attached directly to the upright beams for a much more secure connection.

The dual-gate system also kept employees safe on the upper levels of the module. When the ledge-side gate was up for the fork truck drivers to deposit pallets, the rear-side gate blocks employees from the ledge. When the rear-side gate is raised so employees can pick from the pallets, the ledge-side gate is closed, making a barrier and protecting employees from falling from the ledge.

If you have a facility with a multiple-level pick module, make sure you are providing safety for your workers with a dual-gate system. We offer Rack Supported versions of many of our other models, including the Tri-Side and Pivot gates.

Retrofitting Safety: Going Out of the Box

Ideally, safety systems are built into industrial facilities as the buildings are constructed. This can provide for providing employees with the best protection from day one of the facility use. However, it’s not always possible to plan for all operations; a mixing area could turn into a walkway, and a pallet drop area could pop up in the middle of a pick module. In addition, safety regulations change over the years, and what may have passed as safe in the past no longer is valid.

It’s important to take a closer look at how operations and regulations have changed each year. If you have an area or application that needs to be secured because of changed operations, or updated due to regulation changes, you can find a safety solution that works. However, in many cases, you may need a custom solution to meet standards as well as keep your operations intact.

For example, we worked with a large record retention company that was updating mezzanines in order to meet new safety standards and create a safer environment for its employees. Due to the size of the facility, many areas had space limitations with low ceilings and limited depth on the mezzanine. The company also had installed many of our Pivot model safety gates in the past and wanted to install the same design in the new areas.

Originally designed for an application with a low ceiling, the facility’s vertical space limitations would not be an issue. However, the additional constraints of depth and load height ruled out our traditional Pivot gate model as a solution. In order to provide the necessary level of safety and keep operations unchanged for our customer, our engineers designed a High Pallet Pivot gate with a configuration that included multiple-pivot points that allowed the depth and height of the unit to be modified while still accommodating pallets of material. Operations were unchanged while the employees working on the mezzanines were much safer with the new safety gates in place.

If you need to update the safety in areas in your facility, make sure to keep in mind that you may not find an out of the box solution that will ensure your operations stay the same. Make sure to discuss the operational processes and application that you are looking to secure with the safety gate manufacturer, as well as challenges like limited depth of the platform, an extra wide load or very unique procedure.