Assembling any complex product can often become an especially labor in- tensive—not to mention callisthenic— activity.
Whether that product is something as relatively small as a skid steer or as massive as an
aircraft wing, the assembly job will often require
any single worker to crawl on hands and knees,
fetch and climb ladders, and continuously reach
far past ergonomic guidelines to access each
part of the build. As they do this, they must also
regularly stop work to retrieve materials and
instructions for the job.
By some estimates, all this repositioning, fetching, and stretching can account for as much as
20% of the total labor time.
In the past, this was just part of the job. Exhaustion and rotator-cuff injuries aside, it was deemed
an “effcient enough” process. Though work access lifts have been available for decades, they
were rarely used for small or mid-sized assembly
jobs where ladders or scaffolding would other wise
suffce. Over the last few years, however, this has
begun to change.
Work access lifts, once viewed as necessary
only for massive assembly operations, have now
become a critical tool for unlocking profound productivity and quality improvements for assembly
jobs of any size.
As Jim Galante—director of business develop-
ment at Southworth Products Corp—sees it, this
uptick in usage is being driven by a number of
macro trends that affect the entire manufacturing
industry. It begins with the age-old issue of the
“We just don’t have a lot of young people
coming into this business,” he says. “That means
the people on the line doing the work on big
assemblies tend to be older.”
And by no small measure. By Galante’s cal-
culations, the average worker in this industry has
aged from around 27 to about 48 years old today.
While this does mean there is more experience and expertise on the line, it also means
that “we’ve got a workforce that is not quite as
agile and not quite as quick to run up and down
a ladder or crawl on a scaffold as they used to
be,” Galante says.
This fact rubs against another challenging
change in the industry: demand for productivity.
“We have domestic productivity pressure and
we have foreign pressure and we have management trying to do more with less,” Galante says.
Added together, this means there is a strong
desire to make work faster, safer, and easier
than ever before. The answer to that, the industry
trends suggest, is wider use of work access lifts.
From Ergonomic Tool to
Since they hit the market, the key selling
point for work access lifts has been their clear
ergonomic benefts. Basically, if the worker isn’t
kneeling, climbing, or reaching to access his or
her job, the risk of injury or fatigue is diminished.
But it means much more than that today.
“Even though we say that work access lifts
are very good ergonomic tools because they
position the worker to the work—which is the
foundation of ergonomics—the real gain for the
company is productivity and effciency,” Galante
says. “It’s a no-brainer—if you want to improve
output, let’s position the worker ideally so he
can get the work done effciently.”
Taking advantage of these tools and this
“no-brainer” approach to productivity no lon-
ger requires massive assembly jobs, he adds.
He points to one recent project in particular
to demonstrate the point—a customer has large
cylindrical objects 4 to 8’ tall suspended from
overhead conveyor (see image to right). These
cylinders receive a special coating that has to
be thoroughly inspected and any voids or im-
perfections repaired before moving them into
the baking oven. The large size of the objects
combined with the fact they are suspended
above the foor made inspection a big problem.
Now a work access lift positions inspectors at
just the right height to view the entire surface
area, anywhere from top to bottom.
“The ideal position for this job is to put the
work from 30 to 40 inches above the foor, so
we’re only raising or lowering the worker may-
be two or three feet,” Galante says. “But by
positioning the worker to the ideal ergonomic
position, he tends to be much more effcient—he
can stand erect, he’s biomechanically as strong
as he’s ever going to be, and he’s less likely to
“And,” he notes, “when you consider that
these workers are 55, not 25, that’s a really
Adding to this evolution of lift use, Galan-
te says, is also an overall evolution of lift
“More and more often, these work access lifts
are not just raising the worker on a 2 x 3-foot
platform like we see at construction sites, but
large, six, eight, 10-foot-wide platforms that
are 20 feet long,” he explains. “With these,
we’re not only raising the worker, we’re raising
the tools—we’re raising his workbench with his
computer and documentation, we’re raising the
materials that he uses, even building convey-
ors to convey all the materials he needs to do
his job right up on the work platform. It’s also
not uncommon to see a lift that is L-shaped or
U-shaped so a worker can access multiple sides
of an assembly.”
Customization to the job is what allows a work
access lift to really improve worker productivity.
“We’re seeing all kinds of customization that
allows these lifts to be extremely versatile. Think
of the side of airplane fuselage that is curved,”
says Galante. “A standard lift platform that pro-
vides access to the middle or widest point of the
fuselage would be of little help when the worker
needed access to higher or lower sections. But
put a retractable slide out platform on the lift and
the worker can get up good and close whether
they are working at the bottom, middle or top of
In other words, modern solutions not only
solve the crawling-climbing-reaching issue,
they resolve every productivity-killing part of
an assembly process. The result of this can be
a massive boost to productivity.
“We know, if there’s not good ergonomics,
there is going to be a productivity bottleneck,”
Galante says. “So, if we can put all the materials
and components at one level and raise or lower
a worker with all those materials and tools, we’re
eliminating a lot of wasted motion, a core lean
value, and we’re going to get back some really
good productivity gains.”
In this case, the results can be impressive. “We
can improve productivity by 10, 20, 30%,” Galan-
te says. “And that makes for a pretty quick ROI.”
For more, visit:
By Travis Hessman
With pressure to increase output from an aging workforce, work access lifts have become much more than just
ergonomic aids: they are essential productivity drivers across the large assembly industry.
GIVING WORKERS A
Work Access Lifts come in all shapes and sizes to improve
worker safety and increase productivity in a wide variety
of manufacturing and assembly jobs.