To say e-commerce grew rapidly in the last year is an understatement. To keep up with demand, material handling and warehousing facilities have been changing to make operations faster and more efficient. Increasingly, pick modules are being used in order to better utilize space and cluster picking applications are being used more frequently within the systems.
Within multi-level rack supported pick modules, multiple deep pallets are pushed into pallet flow systems. In cluster picking operations, there are typically one or two flow lanes in a bay with an aisle between the lanes. Employees on the platform enter the lanes to pick from various pallets on either side of the aisle, putting items on a takeaway conveyor to be packaged and shipped.
Because the employees picking within the system are working at heights and often along pallet drop areas, it’s imperative to provide a safety system that keeps them from falling from the ledge. However, freestanding safety structures may not work within cluster picking applications in busy distribution centers or material handling facilities because there is normally little space within the rack system.
Rack supported safety gates work well within cluster picking applications in busy distribution centers or material handling facilities because of the limited space within the rack system. The dual-gate systems attach directly to the rack uprights in rack systems or pick modules, which maximizes space in the area and creates a secure connection without having to anchor the gate into the decking. The safety gate can be designed to match the depth of the pallet flow lane to capture multiple pallets.
We have recently designed two safety gate systems with cluster picking applications in mind: a Rack Supported Open Top model and the Rack Supported Roly model in a multiple pallet deep configuration.
The Rack Supported Open Top safety gate uses dual, counter-balanced gates connected on the side to maintain a safe pallet drop area at all times while operating with no overhead mechanics. When the ledge-side gate is open, allowing material to be delivered to the pallet drop area, the rear-side gate is closed, protecting the worker from falling off the ledge. When the rear side gate is raised to gain access to the pallets, the ledge-side gate closes and compacts into the rack bay, maintaining a safe environment during all stages of the operation and keeping the area clear for traffic to pass along the aisle while providing room for employees picking from pallets on either side of the lane.
The Rack Supported Open Top design prevents pallets holding the gates open when the lane is full and are ideal in areas with that feature extra tall pallet loads. The design, which can be configured for 90 degree access to pallets on both sides, can be customized to fit specific rack configurations and existing or new structures.
The Rack Supported Roly multi pallet deep safety gate configuration uses dual, counter-balanced gates to secure the ledge and keep employees out of the flow lanes while the lane is being replenished with pallets. When the ledge-side gate is open, allowing material to be delivered to the pallet drop area, the rear-side gate is closed, protecting the worker from falling off the ledge. When the rear side gate is raised to gain access to the pallets, the ledge-side gate closes flush with ledge of the rack bay, maintaining a safe environment during all stages of the operation. If the rack does not extend above the decking on the top level of the pick module or if the pallet flow lanes are located on a work platform, the gate can be designed in a free-standing model.
The extra deep dual-gate system prevents pallets holding the gates open when the lane is full and creates a completely enclosed workstation while providing fall protection for the workers in picking positions and around the empty pallet or tote return bays. The system also prevents the pallets from being pushed into the legs of the operator on the platform because they are restricted from the bay access while the areas are being loaded.
We’d love to help you make your cluster picking applications safer for your employees. Call or email us with any questions, and if you know what you need, great - just fill out our quote request form. If you don’t know what you need we’re here to help you. We’ll get right back to you with the right safety gate solution for your needs.
Protective guarding is essential in material handling facilities. Guardrail, safety gates, mesh cages and bollards are just a few of the safety measures that should be implemented in every facility for employees working at heights, around machinery and at the loading docks.
However, when you purchase protective guarding of any type, it’s important to understand that it is often not a ‘one-type fits all’ kind of purchase. The key to selecting the right protective guarding is knowing what the application environment is like and communicating that with the equipment provider. Review the environment and processes with operations, maintenance and safety teams to determine the specific requirements for each application so those features are designed into the safety system.
Three aspects of the application environment are crucial in selecting the best protective guarding solution for your facility: climate, location and traffic. Understanding these three factors will make sure your safety system is the right design for the facility.
In a basic material handing or distribution environment where there is a normal climate, palletized material is lifted to an upper level and picked or moved with pallet jack or moved to conveyors, the use of protective guarding constructed out of painted mild steel is often the right choice. This is an economical and durable solution. Most protective guarding manufactures use a powder-coating process instead of wet paint for a more durable finish that will not flake or crack.
Many facilities have sanitation requirements that do not allow any type of paint, whether powder coated or wet. Some of these areas may be able to use mild steel equipment with specialty finishes such as Steel-It Paint, which includes FDA approved stainless steel pigments.
Facilities may feature applications in which goods are stored and picked in extreme hot or cold climates; other facilities feature areas where equipment and material is routinely sanitized, washed down and cleaned. In both of these instances, stainless steel is the best choice as it can withstand extreme temperatures and allows material to be washed down and cleaned without concern of flaking or chipping paint contaminating the facility or material. Galvanized steel or aluminum gates may be required if the application uses caustic material.
For example, when our safety gates are constructed in stainless steel, the entire design is fabricated out of 300 series stainless steel with all stainless hardware. All open ends are capped to prevent water and debris from entering the system. When required, we can use continuous welds, and eliminate any bolts holes in the tubing. And before shipping the unit to the facility, we tig-brush, bead-blast or electro-polish the entire unit to remove any burn marks from the welding process in order to ensure installing the cleanest system available.
Climate also impacts the power options that may be involved with the protective guarding you choose - it’s often selected in conjunction with safety gates. Ensure the motor that you use is able to operate within any extreme climate conditions that may be present in the facility. Motors are available in water- and explosion-proof options, and numerous controls, such as flashing lights and caution alarms, can be added.
Traffic patterns near the location of the protective guarding must be considered before the purchase of protective guarding, and that goes for both outdoor and indoor applications.
Loading dock environments are different for every facility; they all have their specific traffic patterns and can feature multiple applications, often happening at the same time. All protective guarding must accommodate the flow of traffic - often trucks, lifts and employees - moving throughout the area. It’s important to consider any other aspects that could disrupt flow such as awnings and doors.
Once you have all of the traffic patterns in detail, the protective guarding can be configured based on the operation of each application or area. For example, one of our grocery customers needed to accommodate the flow of trucks and patterns for each dock when considering safety gates for its lifts in the loading dock. Some of these areas used gates that swing outward, sometimes with a single gate that covered the entire eight foot lift. In other applications, bi-parting gates were used to prevent the gate from swinging into the delivery area. Our team also created a safety gate that can move into position after the traffic has moved, and then can be rolled into a safe position once the material has been transferred.
Inside the facility, fork lift trucks and AGVs are often moving around the facility loading and unloading material from pallets. Cobots or robotic machinery may also be present. It’s important to understand the patterns and movements of each of these aspects before purchasing protective guarding to ensure not only it will protect your employees, but also keep your production intact.
Technology is often needed to allow the protective guarding to communicate with other plant equipment and software. For example, radio frequency sensors integrated with power operation on our safety gates send lift trucks and AGVs a signal when the ledge gate is up, telling it to load material to the pallet drop area. After the pallets are loaded, the sensors from the vehicle send a signal to the safety gate to use the motor to close the ledge-side gate so employees can work with the material. Photo eyes can also detect the presence of a person or object and prevent the safety gate from opening or closing.
When it comes to protective guarding solutions, environment greatly impacts the type and design. Review the physical location in the facility and work with employees to understand the process and the inherent dangers in each application. In addition, consider the total space available, the amount of clearance needed for employees to work, any machinery or other interference that could impact movement or safety, the materials being worked with and the climate in which it will be located.
Because each environment is different, we’ll use a few examples of locations in which safety gates are commonly found to illustrate the impact it has on the guarding design.
In locations with cold climates or frequent sanitation, safety gate solutions should have as few moving parts as possible, like our Pivot pallet drop safety gate. This design uses a pivoting framework that utilizes fewer moving parts to provide a safe environment for employees working around the pallet. The rear gate pivots back beyond the upright to secure the pallet, then moves out of the way when the ledge gate is closed. With this design, you want to make sure the moving gates will not interfere with the truck aisle, and that there is adequate clearance behind the pallet drop area. Note that the space required for this operation may be an issue if a takeaway conveyor is located right behind the pallet drop area.
If depth on the platform is limited, due a narrow aisle, then your best safety gate design may be a Tri-Side safety gate. This safety system uses a gate that moves straight up and down at the ledge - never extending into the lift truck aisle, and a rear ‘u’-shaped gate that closes to capture the pallet then moves up and out of the way to provide egress behind the area.
In pick modules, a Rack Supported Roly safety gate is often the best choice for fall protection in most of these configurations, as the gates attach to existing rack uprights and don’t require the systems to be billed into decking. Due to the configuration, these safety gate models never extend into the truck or picking aisle, and do not interfere with the truck loading the upper levels of multi-level picking systems. The gates open and close within the confines of the pallet drop area so the gate at the ledge opens and closes flush with the ledge and the rear gate is flush with the rear uprights of the system.
If the picking bays include pallet flow lanes in which multiple pallets deep are loaded, then you should install a version of the Rack-Supported Roly gate that is designed as deep as the flow lane. The additional depth ensures there is a gate in place at all times and prevents an employee from entering the aisle while the area is being loaded. This is especially important in a cluster-picking design where employees travel an aisle between the lanes to pick from multiple pallets at the same time.
No matter what type of protective guarding you are seeking for your material handling operation, make sure you take all aspects of the environment into account. If you review the climate, traffic and location you’re on your way to selecting the best design for your guarding solution.
This article first appeared in the August 2020 issue of Workplace Material Handling & Safety