Hoisting innovation for safety, productivity and ergonomics
In this age where manufacturers constantly search for ways to cut costs while increasing production, initiatives such as Lean manufacturing, ergonomics and safety influence their needs. They demand tools that can accommodate multitasking, that are designed to handle product swiftly and securely without damaging it and protect workers from repetitive motion injuries, but also are built with operator safety in mind.
“Across the board, customers tell us they want their material handling equipment to accomplish three major things: reduce product damage, protect their workers from injury and improve productivity,” said Jeff McNeil, marketing manager for Gorbel Inc. “They want to improve quality in their processes and reduce the number of people it takes to accomplish a task, but still make it a safe task for workers to complete.”
Clearly, Lean manufacturing and its methods for driving out waste are key to any manufacturer’s processes, and in turn, its capital investments. However, Lean is not the only trend driving innovation. Performance enhancements are also forcing suppliers to devise smaller, faster and more lightweight designs, according to Dan Senff, channel marketing manager for the Americas, ergonomic lifting and handling for Ingersoll Rand.
“Innovation is primarily being driven on performance enhancements, as well as driving cost out of the product,” Senff said. “Lean manufacturing principles are being embraced around the industry as the Lean culture not only eliminates waste throughout the process, but reduces lead time to market and eliminates unnecessary costs. Manufacturers also continue to focus on common platforms and common components, allowing them to leverage spend.”
McNeil added that technology’s role in these efforts is certain to continue. It is apparent in the arena of hoists and cranes that is the trend.
“Manufacturers continue to strive for continuous-duty lifting devices,” Senff said. “Many air hoists today are continuous-duty, but the industry has struggled to develop electric hoisting products to meet this requirement.”
Other trends that continue to emerge are variable-speed devices and wireless interfaces.
“Variable speed technology in electric hoists continues to evolve as end users require the ability to infinitely control the speed at which they operate loads or material,” Senff said. “Wireless technologies continue to evolve as more and more end users require the ability to control loads but not be ‘tied’ to the hoist or crane they are operating.”
Many of the innovations being incorporated into these devices are being added in response to user need for flexibility. According to McNeil, manufacturers want solutions that are applicable to multiple material handling tasks. This allows them to make the most of their capital investments.
“Flexibility is a huge concern for companies,” McNeil said. “That desire for flexibility is echoed in another trend we see: companies choosing high-tech, operator-guided handling equipment instead of completely automated equipment. Why?
“Completely automated solutions eliminate the need for a human to complete a task, but they cannot always respond to changes in process or hiccups in the cycle like a human can,” he continued. “More and more of these high-tech solutions are designed with built-in limits to the human operator’s range of motion, which protects the worker, the load they’re lifting and the surface they’re placing the load on.”
Helping out the bottom line
From capabilities and capacities to ergonomics and safety, innovations are being added to hoists and cranes to satisfy these needs while bettering the bottom line. In many cases, the improvement to the bottom line is significant.
“When looking at driving cost out of the product, manufacturers are focused not only on the material costs they can reduce, but also the overhead and labor content being added to the product,” Senff said. “Every dollar they can take out of the cost of the product shows up as a savings to the end user and/or increased profit to the manufacturer.”
“We see customers improving their bottom line every day by choosing better handling solutions,” McNeil added. “For instance, simply using a crane to lift a load that was previously being manually lifted can turn a three-person operation into a one-person operation.”