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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 in Pallet Flow Operations

As global competition increases and the consumer mindset of “faster is better” takes over business, companies are under a time pressure to ensure their products are sorted and delivered to their end users.

Many companies have added systems of multi-level pick modules with flow lanes to quickly move palletized products through while they also maximize their available space. These pallet flow lanes are often loaded from one side of the pallet racking and picked from the other side. As each load is removed a pallet load from behind automatically moves into position for picking.

These systems can be very complex, with multiple flow lanes within the rack system. Often employees are working to pick pallets from these systems, which can be located on elevated platforms. When employees work from these elevated levels in picking operations, safety is of utmost importance to keep them from falling off the ledge.

Although by design the picker is positioned a safe distance from the ledge, there is still an egress to the ledge so it must be secured. Often the entire lane is decked over for safety so the picker and palletized items don’t fall between the lanes. However, this creates another safety concern because the employees have access to enter the lanes, often to retrieve a dislodged item, or to square up a pallet, or simply because they can. Because of these concerns, we recommend decking the entire lane to move the ledge out to the end of the module. Then, the ledge should be secured with a gate system that allows pallets to enter the lane but prevents employees from falling.

We recommend two solutions. The first is our Pallet Flow Safety gate, which is a self-closing swing gate designed specially for pallet flow applications. It uses solid panel gates to allow the lift truck to push the gates open with the pallet and creates a smooth transition for the pallet to flow down the lane. Tension-adjustable hinges allow the gates to automatically close, and and heavy-duty welded stops prevent the gates from swinging outward, creating a fall-protection barrier.

The second solution, created to meet updated ANSI standards, is a gate system for pallet flow lanes that uses dual counterbalanced and interconnected gates to maintain a safe environment for employees at all times. One gate is positioned at the ledge, the second pallet in front of the first-pallet position where the picker is located. When the pallet flow side of the gate opens, the rear gate automatically closes, keeping the pickers away from the ledge and lane while pallets are deposited. To gain access the the lane, the picker raises the rear-side gate, which closes the ledge-side gate. This is the safest method of securing pallet flow lanes.

The system can be made as deep as the lane, and it not only keeps the employees secured from the elevated ledge, but it also prevents the lift truck from loading a pallet while an employee is in the lane, where a pallet could be pushed into his or her leg. The closed ledge-side gate becomes a signal that the lane should not be loaded. The lift truck can only load the lane when the picker closes the gate near them, which opens the ledge side gate – a signal to the driver below that the area is safe and ready to be replenished.

As your facility is updated to speed operations or maximize space, it’s always important to keep safety for your workers at top of mind. We are always working to ensure our safety gates keep up with new material handling technology and systems, and it’s important facility mangers do the same.

Mixing Platforms and Safety

Chemical manufacturing facilities often have space issues when it comes to safety. Many of these plants have large reactors or mixers with hoppers accessed by elevated platforms positioned near the top of the vessels. Typically a lift truck will load pallets of ingredients onto these upper levels for employees to load into these mixers. So while positioned near a ledge, often unguarded, they are asked to remove heavy bags from a pallet, slice them open and pour them into the large mixer.

Space is often limited on these platforms so that the mixer is located near the pallet of ingredients to limit the distance the operator has to travel with a heavy bag. Often the area consists of a series of catwalks and small mezzanines around the mixer and the production machinery. This limited space is often an issue, leaving very little room for employee, product and proper fall protection guarding, which can expose employees to a high risk for incidents like falls.

We worked with a global manufacturer that works with chemicals to secure three areas in its facility. Each area featured a mixer with a set of platforms and catwalks on which employees were handling and creating the product.

The three platforms offered the additional challenge of very tight space constraints. The pallet drop areas were loaded with a lift truck, and safety relied upon a piece of chain to restrain people — not enough to keep employees safe.

This application is fairly common, outside of the manufacturer’s unique space constraints. All pallet drop areas on elevated platforms need to be properly guarded, but areas on production platforms where employees are asked to work around the ledge, often in a hostile environment, need to be taken seriously. This is often tiring, repetitive work in a dusty or wet environment so companies must take safety out of employee’s hands, giving them one less thing to think about during the day.

Due to the complexity of the areas that needed to be secured, custom dual-gate safety solutions were created. The first area had little room to accommodate a safety barrier so the gate had to be worked into the existing framework of the platform. A custom Pivot Gate was created to be affixed to the handrail instead of the walkway floor to provide dual-gate protection while taking up a minimum amount of space.

The second area pallet drop area had special requirements because a 48-inch pallet had to be able to rotate 360 degrees on a pallet turntable within the guarded area. This area offered additional challenges: there was low overhead, it was situated on a traffic aisle so there were very specific ways the lift truck entered the platform, and the equipment and a ramp to the mixer infringed on how the gate could be used. We created a custom version of High Pallet Pivot model, a dual-gate system that included 14 pivot points that extended the depth and width to accommodate the pallet. The system allowed the pallet to rotate on a turntable, ensuring ease of work and safety on the platform.

The third area had even less available depth due to the location of the blending hopper, which was positioned close to the ledge so the employee could simply turn and dump the bag of ingredients from the pallet into the hopper without carrying the bag. The limited available depth didn’t provide adequate room for a more traditional dual-gate system like the Pivot Model. We installed our Tri-Side design, which uses a fixed support frame only 14” deep, and a rear-side gate that raised up and out of the way when the ledge-side gate was closed, allowing access around the pallet. With this system in place, the employee could grab the bags around the pallet and dump them freely into the hopper, all while a barrier was in place at the ledge to prevent a fall.

All of these dual-gate systems we created - as well as hundreds of other solutions we have created - have worked to keep employees safe on the elevated platforms, as well as meet ANSI standards - while keeping operational processes intact.

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!