How to improve productivity and safety

Choosing the right materials handling equipment is vital

By Stephen Batten

Although Australia’s labour productivity growth rate has slumped over the past decade, improving productivity remains a priority for many firms.

Making this happen, however, is often challenging. One way of improving a plant’s productivity is by examining its processes as well as the type of equipment it operates.

Apart from implementing incorrect or inefficient processes, a plant may be using outdated or inappropriate equipment. Or worse still, it may be manually completing tasks that could be partially or fully automated.

Materials handling equipment can both increase efficiency and workforce productivity, while improving safety.

Consisting primarily of cranes, vacuum lifters, and chain and wire rope hoists, materials handling equipment is often used in industries that deal with physical goods and materials.

These include the transport and storage industries, manufacturing, wholesale and retail, and general construction as well as mining and agriculture.

Vacuum lifters, which grip and lift materials with a vacuum and tube, reduce workplace injury, produce faster handling times and improve overall efficiency.

They are often an excellent solution in the workplace to strains and pains caused by repetitive reaching, bending, lifting and pushing. They allow the operator to easily lift,
move and position large amounts of weight without feeling fatigue or strain. As a result,
an operator is capable of handling greater quantities of materials when compared to undertaking the same process manually.

In addition, vacuum lifters also produce less deficient products because their easy operating and smooth mechanisms rarely result in damaged products.

Cranes can also help to improve worker productivity as well as safety. There are three major types of cranes – bridge, jib and gantry.

Cranes tend to carry heavy items quickly, effortlessly and efficiently, helping to reduce
handling times.

Safety issues are also eroded as cranes carry heavy loads that no longer require manual handling. An operator from a distance who maintains an unobstructed view of the crane’s path often controls the crane.

Men that were once used to move the heavy loads can now be redirected to other tasks, while forklifts, which may have helped lift heavy materials, can be dispensed with altogether.

The elimination of forklifts allows for better use of factory space, increases safety and reduces the need for forklift drivers.

Like vacuum lift operators, correctly trained crane operators also reduce the potential for damage to materials through the precise positioning of goods.

Regular servicing and maintenance of the lifting equipment is also important as it improves productivity by reducing the potential for breakdowns and therefore, downtime.

While there is no doubt that materials handling equipment does improve productivity and safety, choosing the correct equipment for your plant is integral to its effectiveness.

When investigating lifting systems for your operation consider the following:

  • The type of functions it will perform
  • How heavy the loads are that need to be lifted
  • The length of the lift and the area of hook coverage
  • How the load needs to be moved and where it needs to be located
  • Whether you require a permanent or a mobile solution
  • How frequently the equipment will be used
  • The physical dimensions of your facility
  • Brake options, drive speeds and control options
  • How easy it is to move the system to a new location in your premises
  • The quality of the equipment
  • Servicing and maintenance options
  • How much money you should invest in the system

Considering these questions will help you invest in a system that will improve your operations, increase worker safety and productivity, while improving product quality.

* Stephen Batten is the Managing Director of Redfern Flinn, a leading Australian crane company.

Ph: 02 9153 9566