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Feb. 17, 2016 — When it comes to warehouse and distribution employees, more organizations are starting to deploy ergonomically designed automation systems. These ergonomic solutions help workers complete picking and order fulfillment tasks while simultaneously eliminating the risk of injury. In addition to enhancing safety, the devices can boost productivity and reduce a variety of costs — positioning both workers and companies for operational success.
To minimize the exertion injuries associated with manual material-handling processes (including lifting, reaching, walking, stretching, bending, stooping, pulling, pushing, twisting, gripping, and climbing), a variety of automated goods-to-person storage and retrieval systems exist. These include:
• Horizontal carousels: Bins mounted on an oval track that rotate horizontally to deliver storage locations to an operator.
• Vertical carousels: Comprised of a series of shelves that rotate around a track, similar to a Ferris wheel, these systems deliver stored items safely and quickly to an ergonomically positioned work counter.
• Vertical lift modules (VLMs): A vertical lift module (VLM) consists of two columns of trays holding items. An automatic inserter/extractor device between the columns stores and retrieves a tray when required by an operator.
All three of these automated storage and retrieval systems eliminate unproductive and physically tiring travel and search time by delivering items directly to the operator on command. Workers in conventional warehouses spend up to 60 percent of their time walking to products, searching for them on a shelf, and climbing on a ladder to reach items stored high, or kneeling down to access items stored low.
With an automated storage system, a worker no longer has to spend as much time on travel or retrieval of items. Not only does limiting an operator to just a few steps to complete picking tasks dramatically reduce fatigue, it also boosts picking rates by as much as 600 percent.
Further, a less-fatigued worker is a more accurate one. Tired operators are more likely to make mistakes. In addition to minimizing fatigue caused by exertion, these automated goods-to-person systems can prevent errors when equipped with a variety of supporting technologies. Additions such as light-directed picking systems and monitors that display images of the items to be picked reduce further errors, resulting in up to near-perfect picking accuracy.
Every item stored in a vertical carousel and VLM is delivered to the operator at the optimal ergonomic work height, called the “Golden Zone,” or waist high. (In the case of a horizontal carousel, the addition of a lift table — coupled with proper slotting to ensure the most-frequently-picked items are at waist height — achieves the same ergonomic benefit.) Shelves, trays, or bins of products presented in easy reach eliminates bending down to retrieve an item stored low, or stretching to grab an item stored high.
The machines also minimize the unnecessary or excessive motions required for retrieval of items from drawers or shelves, such as reaching, stretching, bending, pushing, pulling, or stooping. Likewise, ladders, climbing, and forklifts are not needed to place or retrieve items.
Further, VLMs can be equipped with a manual or automatic tray extractor for even easier load handling. With a manual extraction device, the operator can easily glide the tray completely out of the VLM and onto a cart or trolley. The tray of items can then be rolled to any destination within the facility, such as a workstation for parts kitting or a work cell that requires tooling stored within the VLM. Upon its return, the extraction device accepts the tray with minimal operator effort. Ideal for heavier loads (such as dense, heavy parts, tooling, dies, molds, and other components used in manufacturing or field service and support operations), the automatic tray extractor mechanically slides the tray out of the machine. This ergonomic assist function prevents a worker from having to reach inside the system to pull the tray or item out.
Not only do horizontal carousels, vertical carousels, and VLMs eliminate the fatigue and errors associated with walk and search time and substantially decrease the risk of worker injury, adding these ergonomic systems positions an operation to significantly reduce absenteeism, insurance premiums, and claims for worker’s compensation. Additional benefits include highly dense storage, reducing floor space requirements by as much as 80 percent; fast access times, computerized inventory control for simplified warehouse management; and interface modules that communicate with other warehouse management systems (WMS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
Kardex Remstar, LLC, a company of the Kardex Group, is a provider of automated storage and retrieval systems for manufacturing, distribution, warehousing, offices, and institutions. For more information, visit www.kardexremstar.com.