Innovative Ergonomic Development

Heavy lifting is for body builders in the gym – and for chumps at work.
Using human muscle power to move objects that are clumsy, heavy, fragile, or need critical positioning is inefficient, potentially hazardous, and to be blunt about it, just plain dumb.
It is especially distressing to see companies using muscle power when there are so many easy and cost-effective alternatives.
For some applications where high rates of repetition and a precisely controlled location is programmable, the industrial robot provides an easy – if somewhat costly – solution.
In other cases which the location is not as precise and where human guidance, but not strength, is needed, there are a range of solutions that are based on matching human workers with pneumatically assisted, ergonomically engineered machinery. These “cyborg-like” applications allow the worker to move objects with precision but without exertion. The equipment is ingenious and usually highly affordable.
IBT’s Gary Foerschler, Manager of the Fluid Power Systems group, is an old hand at these types of systems.
“For years, we have dealt with a series of companies who grew up in the auto industry. They have been highly innovative and successful at creating equipment that helps lift, move, position, manipulate and control various objects.
“In the auto plants, these types of machines allow human operators to move sub-assemblies and components into place on car chassis that are moving by on the production line. In Detroit’s world, throughput is critical and the line waits for no man or woman. The stuff has to be moved quickly.”
Foerschler has taken lessons learned over the years to a new location recently, a Missouri plant location of a major multi-national.

In a visit to the plant, Foerschler showed a combined team of safety, manufacturing and maintenance people some background material and case histories about how specially designed, air-assisted devices had proved extremely useful in various material handling applications in other factories.
“We find that when you have odd geometries, mid-range weights, frequent repetition and a need for human-guidance, these ‘ergonomic lifters’ are ideal,” Foerschler reports.
“In the plant in question, they have some custom-made, precisely dimensioned pallets that hold machined assemblies. Handling the pallets is problematic, but we showed the customer some ways to speed up the process, reduce the risk of damage to the pallets and virtually eliminate the risk of injury to the workers. All for a very reasonable capital investment that is easily paid for by the improved productivity – not to mention the elimination of damage and injury claims.
“Our devices lift the pallets – which weight between 88 and 208 pounds (40 – 95 kg) – flip them 90 degrees, place them in a wash station, then remove and restack them. This device cost approximately $ 20,000.00.
“Another application handles steel flywheels weighing approximately 20 pounds. They are not especially heavy, but they do have their hazards. At 12 inches wide by two inches thick, they have sharp edges, potentially damageable gear teeth, and have a keyway that requires a certain care to properly mount them on a shaft. A tough and potentially bloody job for an-unassisted human, but a piece of cake for an operator and an ergonomic lifter.”

These types of ergonomic lifters are powered by pneumatic or electro-mechanical forces. They are highly controllable with hand throttles, so the operator is able to maintain close control at all times. They are inherently safe, and fail-safe. There is no danger of components being dropped due to a power interruption or any other outside force.
Systems are designed for specific customer applications and are easily adaptable to multiple configurations in the workspace. They also have a continuous duty cycle, as heat build-up and other issues do not provide a problem or concern.
Foerschler sums up, “Ergonomic lifting makes so much sense. It is highly affordable, totally customized for the specific application, can pay for itself with productivity gains and loss prevention and widens the potential pool of operators to include more people – not just those whose brawny lifting ability may be their main qualification.
“I would be eager to share the secrets of this approach with any IBT customer or prospect who is looking for a way to improve their process in a safe and cost-effective manner. Have them contact me.”