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Workplace Safety Gaps In Automated Operations

Automation is arguably becoming one of the most consequential assets in keeping American manufacturing competitive. Automated manufacturing plants produce higher quality products at a faster and often safer rate, but they don’t completely eliminate workplace safety risks. For example, robotics-related injuries occur the most often during non-routine operations, which are all too easy for manufacturing businesses to overlook.

Automation Workplace Safety and Robotics Transport

Though robots are one specific type of automation, the injuries that occur while operating and maintaining them are indicative of a larger issue in the world of automation. Modern, lean manufacturing environments typically utilize a combination of human labor and automated machinery to optimize their processes in the most cost-effective manner. Individual processes are typically divided up into work cells, where automated CNC machines or robotic equipment is housed. Though the manufacturing processes conducted in those work cells may not present a safety risk, the labor involved in maintaining the necessary automated machinery or reorganizing the work cells is another story.

At Electro Kinetic Technologies, we see injury risk arise in automated facilities when a customer’s robotic equipment needs to be moved to a cleaning area, transported in and out of storage, or used in another part of the plant. Robotic equipment can weigh several tons in some instances, which presents serious injury risks to the employees in charge of moving it, even over short distances. Whenever heavy loads require lifting, pushing, and pulling forces, musculoskeletal injuries can occur, making these types of non-routine operations dangerous in automated manufacturing environments.

Automation Workplace Safety and Material Transport

Though automation lowers the safety risk of certain primary manufacturing processes, intermediate processes can still present safety risks. Here is where we still see automation workplace safety problems during the manufacturing processes themselves:

Supplying Materials to the Process: metals, bulk materials, packaging, or labels pose musculoskeletal injury risks during their transportation to the automated work area for processing or converting.

Transporting Workpieces Between Cells: heavy materials create safety risks when transported between automated work cells, or from one manufacturing process to another.

Waste Removal: material waste such as machining chips or process byproducts still requires removal and disposal in otherwise automated facilities, and can cause injury risk as a result.

From Workcell to Shipping: Finished components and products need transport out of their original manufacturing plant, and often require ergonomic transport solutions typically found in material handling facilities to safely load them onto trucks and into shipping containers. Additionally, the packaging process prior to shipping can also present transport problems.

Technically, each of these routine processes could be automated, but those systems are often elaborate and expensive to implement, with few options for accommodating product changes or unique packaging requirements. Additionally, most lean manufacturing strategies are more effective without an entirely automated system, requiring some manual transport and human labor. For these types of automation workplace safety liabilities, various types of ergonomic motorized equipment can cost-effectively and efficiently support a lean manufacturing organizational structure.

For more information on the types of ergonomic solutions we provide at Electro Kinetic Technologies to support automated workplaces, connect with one of our engineers through our Contact Page.

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