Adapted from an article in Industrial Machinery Digest.
The forklift is arguably one of the most high-powered and influential innovations to impact the world of manufacturing. They are common-place in warehouses, plants, and distribution centers around the world, speeding up the production and handling of materials far too heavy for humans to safely lift and transport on their own. However, for those familiar with forklifts in manufacturing contexts, you already know that they often come with limitations, complications, and inevitable risks.
Many of the more entertaining forklift ‘complications’ have been widely shared under the Twitter hashtag #ForkliftFails, while others of a more tragic sort can be found in news articles and press releases. These mishaps serve as reminders that forklifts are not a universal material handling or manufacturing lifting solution, and can only provide safe lifting and transport in select operations and contexts. For manufacturers in need of alternatives, here’s what you need to know about lifting beyond the forklift.
Why We Need Safer Ergonomic Lifting Solutions
Since the increase in OSHA fines for workplace safety violations in 2015, the manufacturing world has increased its focus on ergonomic hazards that cause expensive and often debilitating musculoskeletal injury. From sprains to serious spinal injuries, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) often occur from repeated pushing, pulling, and lifting movement, and can manifest instantly from a single strain or increasingly over an extended period of time.
However, some of the most severe MSDs of the spine result specifically from unsafe lifting, which places them at the top of our MSD prevention list. These injuries from lifting can cause chronic pain, long term medical treatment, multiple surgical procedures, or even permanent disability that prevents an employee from returning to work.
forklifts are the most well known safe solution, they aren’t for everyone. When used properly, forklifts can prevent severe MSDs from occurring by replacing manual equipment and processes that inevitably cause sprains, strains, and spinal injuries during the moving of heavy materials around a plant or warehouse. However, they also come with a significant degree of liability and forklift operators must earn a forklift operator’s certificate and receive additional training. Forklifts can also cause injury in a surprising number of contexts.
According to OSHA, 25% of all fatal forklift accidents occur from tip-overs, and this is due to the physics of the hefty loads forklifts are often charged with lifting and transporting. The issue isn’t that the forklift can’t lift the load, it’s that particularly heavy loads can cause the truck body to become unstable, and unless the driver maneuvers the vehicle with extra caution, a tip-over is likely. Uneven loading, highly stacked loads, steep inclines, slick surfaces, taking corners too quickly, and speeding seriously exacerbate the risks when operating forklifts. The second most common type of forklift accident occurs when a pedestrian is struck by a forklift truck.
This happens largely due to pedestrians not always being aware of the forklift’s movements, or the driver not seeing pedestrians in their path. Though extensive driver and pedestrian training can help prevent tip-overs and collisions, human error still makes the risks higher than the benefits for operations that cannot invest significant time and resources into training and safety code enforcement.
For these reasons and more, many business owners with facilities that include tighter spaces, ramps and other inclines, slick surfaces, or heavier foot traffic often decide to continue using manual methods of transportation and lifting. Particularly when the materials needing lifting are oddly shaped, highly stacked, or otherwise unusual, forklifts are not the best solution. Manufacturing environments are as varied as the types of materials and products they manufacture, meaning forklifts are unideal for many operations.
Despite the general consensus that manual lifting solutions create unfavorable working conditions, many companies feel there aren’t solutions that are well fitted for their facility or circumstance. However, there is a silver lining here. The need for a third option has led to the development of ergonomic heavy lifting alternatives that are able to safely operate in contexts where both forklifts and manual equipment are otherwise unsafe.
Motorized Lifting Alternatives to the Rescue
Innovative companies like Electro Kinetic Technologies (EKT) are stepping up to the plate to address lifting applications neither manual equipment nor forklifts can safely address. In addition to lifting-focused motorized scissor lift carts, EKT’s wide range of ergonomic solutions can accommodate a broad spectrum of material handling needs. With a few custom tweaks, the ergonomic motorized carts provided by EKT’s team of engineers can accomplish much of the same labor as forklifts with almost no risk of employee injury.
The benefits of motorized carts, standard or custom, include dead man’s switches when the driver lets go of the controls, mounted scissor lifts that aid employees in safely lifting materials to proper working height, retractable drive systems for maximum maneuverability, and generous payload ranges that make motorized carts applicable for operations with both light and heavy lifting needs.
Some primary benefits of these ergonomic motorized carts include the decreased likelihood of cart tip-overs and the simplicity of operational training. Given that the main causes of forklift-related fatalities boil down to carelessness, lack of adequate training, and truck instability, the fool-proof nature of motorized carts makes them an attractive option for combating workplace injury and increasing overall efficiency. Their easily modulated speeds and safer maneuverability also allow them to be used in tight spaces, up and down inclines, and alongside other employees, all while drastically reducing the possibility of MSDs.
Aside from the merits of motorized carts themselves, engineers at EKT are designing custom transport and lifting solutions that not only meet, but exceed the abilities of forklifts. Some materials are too large, too fragile, or too uniquely shaped for an operation to ever consider using a forklift to move or lift them, and these are the applications EKT’s custom scissor lift carts are made to address. According to a case study provided by the firm, EKT successfully engineered a scissor lift cart specifically to lift and transport materials for a window manufacturer that no other product on the market could accomplish. With a generous payload of 2,500 pounds, this entirely ergonomic custom motorized lifting solution has extra long lifting decks that can accommodate 16′ parts, a collision detection system, custom acceleration/deceleration and speed ranges, and a uniquely innovative crawl speed feature.
The crawl speed option limits the forward and backward motion of the cart to 25% of its normal range while the scissor lift is not in the full down position, allowing the operator to safely adjust the positioning of the cart when loading and unloading the lift decks. In manufacturing and material handling contexts that require extra care, advanced speed modulation technology is what makes these types of custom carts true solutions and could be a game changer in the realm of lifting solutions.
Manufacturers can protect employees and bottom lines by re-evaluating possible lifting safety solutions. Companies like Electro Kinetic Technologies have solutions for obstacles that used to prevent companies from having safe practices. From too-small facilities to unusual material handling needs, there’s a safe and efficient lifting and transport solution available for every application.