Imagine a forklift-free plant foor where unmanned carts deliver parts to an assembly line. It’s a scenario that’s becoming a reality in at least a few plants throughout North America. For
example, last year, NED mentioned John Deere’s plans to introduce automated guided vehicles to deliver parts and materials
throughout its Horicon, Wis., plant.
Not every plant has the budget to implement such high-tech,
automated solutions. But any technology that can decrease
forklift traffc helps plants improve material fow and increase
safety, says Jim Galante, director of business development at
Southworth Products Corp., a maker of ergonomic material
“Many companies are trying to go forklift free,” Galante says.
“The reasons for this are fairly signifcant.”
The reason, says Galante, is the number of injuries and fa-
talities from forklift-related accidents. Powered industrial trucks
ranked sixth on OSHA’s list of most frequently cited safety and
health violations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Additionally, a forklift carries one pallet or container at a time,
not the most effcient use of driver and equipment.
NED recently caught up with Galante to discuss how advancements in material handling systems are favorably impacting
Many people are aware of the safety issues related to forklift
traffc. Can you talk a little more about the productivity challenges companies face?
In some cases, companies have to deliver pallets of material
to work stations. Very few companies today are going to let a
forklift enter a workstation where people are working. The best
they can do in that situation is set the pallet down along the
aisle. Now the worker has to get a hand pallet jack or a stacker,
and he has to walk over to the aisle and pick up that pallet and
bring it into a work station. He also has to place the empty pallet
back into at the aisle when he’s fnished with it. Instead of the
worker working, he’s moving material, and that’s not a good lean
principle. Lean is all about eliminating waste, and there’s a lot
of wasted motion there.
What are some of the more effcient alternatives to forklifts?
We’re seeing a lot of companies moving toward towable carts.
There can be as many as eight or 10 towable carts in a towable
train. Those carts are towed by a number of types of vehicles. It
could be a tug with a driver, and that driver has very good visibility
because he’s driving a small tug that looks like a golf cart
without the roof on it. Also, a tug operator does not back up
a towable cart, unlike a forklift, further enhancing safety. The
cart is already on wheels, so the worker at the work station
doesn’t need a secondary piece of equipment like a hand
pallet jack or a stacker to move the cart and position it.
A towable cart is on wheels, so the worker doesn’t waste
a lot of time having to move it if he has to move it all. For
example, he can position two carts near the line, so when
he runs out of material on cart one, cart two can be there at
his work station. He can continue to work while the driver of
the towable vehicle hooks up and pulls away the empty cart.
Can you talk a little bit about how tilting and lifting
capabilities improve the ergonomics at the work stations?
There are some manufacturers of these carts that build
in a lift table or tilt table. The problem is that they’re very
expensive, and when the cart gets to a work station, it has
to be plugged in. And you’re towing around an extra burden,
which is the weight of the tilter or the lift, which can weigh
300 to 500 lb.
The more practical thing to do is to put a lift or a tilter in
the work station and push a cart over it. Now the operator
can raise or lower or tilt the container that’s on the cart to
their ergonomic convenience. This is especially important
where a worker along a production line is handling suspension parts for cars or trucks. These parts are very heavy,
and if there’s a layer of suspension parts on the pallet,
the worker not only has to bend over and reach across
the pallet, he has to pick up loads that could be 10 to 30
lb. or more. That’s going to take its toll on the worker very
quickly, so where there’s repetitive motion or heavy loads,
tilting or lifting that container becomes very important at
the work station.
Our applications for Southworth are to lift, tilt, and turn
in the operation of replenishment or flling the cart. Also, on
the production side where the cart needs to be unloaded,
we also have a role to lift, tilt, or turn to position the cart for
the advantage of the operator. Positioning that cart vertically,
horizontally, or tilting it into position is very important at the
That’s where Southworth shines because we can have
a dedicated lift that the cart fts onto or it can latch on to
a turntable. In the case of a tilter, the cart is pushed over
the tilter, and the tilter is already in the ideal position for
the worker. We work closely with the cart manufacturers to
not only get the material to the work station but get it to the
exact, right position so the worker isn’t bending, reaching
or stooping, and making the worker effcient at his or her
job. These are huge ergonomic improvements and result
in productivity gains.
(For more go to:
SOUTHWORTH TOWABLE CART SYSTEMS
Unloading Risk: Going Forklift-Free
Movable carts that can tilt, turn or lift minimize plant-floor traffic and increase productivity.
by Jonathan Katz
Circle 328 on card or visit www.nedinfo.com/66665-328