Robots and smart automated workplace solutions improve occupational health and safety with fewer occupational accidents, less wear and a wider variety of tasks for your employees.
Op-ed by: Jan Bisgaard Sørensen, CEO, BILA Group
No more visits to the emergency ward due to crushed fingers or toes. No more prolonged sick leave due to back injuries after repeated, heavy manual lifting. No more monotonous, uncomfortable and dirty work. Robotics and the automation of strenuous tasks in a wide range of sectors have made Danish workplaces safer by taking over tasks usually done in hazardous, unhealthy environments. This transformation enhances job satisfaction and benefits corporate economies at the same time.
Here are ten tasks that needlessly wear down your staff
1. Lifting and manually handling pallets (back strain)
2. Wrist twisting from screwing in screws (wrist strain)
3. Gluing or grouting with epoxy or other toxic substances (toxic injury and the risk of poisoning)
4. Uncomfortable working positions (postural distortion)
5. Welding in hard-to-access locations (postural distortion)
6. Repetitive monotonous movements and micromovements (strain on shoulders, elbows and wrists – as well as mental strain)
7. Operating pallet stackers on uneven floors (knee strain)
8. Manual grinding and polishing, such as with an orbital sander (vibrations and dust)
9. Working in dusty, dirty environments (respiratory problems and allergies)
10. Operating a forklift truck when visibility is poor (collision risk)
At Tulip’s retail packing facility in Herning, employees handle up to six tonnes of pallets a day. Previously, these pallets were lifted by hand. They had to be manually tipped down from stacks of up to 12 or 13 pallets, and this was physically straining for the employees. Now a fully automated pallet magazine from PALOMAT® handles all the heavy lifting, and the system handles all pallets at floor level. The employees are pleased with their new helper, which has resulted in fewer sore backs and measurably less sick leave among employees.
Insulation materials stacked up to six metres high were moved using a manned forklift truck at Rockwool in Vamdrup. At Arla in Rødkærsbro, forklift operators drove around with towering stacks of cheese. This was challenging to both companies as the forklift operators could not see across the loads. Now, the fully-automated driverless forklift trucks, so-called AGVs, have taken over the conveyance of both insulation batts and cheese. This has improved safety because the self-propelled forklift trucks are equipped with all sorts of sensors and scanners, enabling them to detect and avoid obstacles at all times, no matter how high the load.
In other words, AGVs have replaced the forklift trucks which employees previously stood on while driving around with the goods. These forklift trucks often had an adverse effect on employees, exemplified by the fact that some employees developed knee pains when driving the forklift trucks on uneven floors.
Every day, millions of screws are screwed into everything from electronics to attic stairs at countless companies across Denmark. When screwed in by hand, this results in countless twists of employees’ wrists, causing strain and wear over time. Therefore, many companies have delegated this assembly work to flexible robotic arms from Universal Robots, and one of the most highly sold applications is notably for screwing-in tasks. In fact, a substantial percentage of the robotic arms’ own 400 screws are screwed in by robotic arms on Universal Robot’s assembly lines.
Other robotic arm applications can do gluing and jointing tasks and other precision work that can be physically burdensome due to the precision required. Robots can also be used to replace employees in work involving potentially toxic substances such as epoxy, which can be toxic if leaked/released.
A very popular application for Universal Robots’ robotic arms is the grinding and polishing of workpieces. If done manually, these tasks involve heavy strains as they are very dusty and cause many vibrations affecting both hands and arms.
Countless jobs in the manufacturing industry, which traditionally involve OHS challenges, can be made much safer and healthier by using modern technology. Also, whereas employees were often highly sceptical of automated solutions a few years ago, they are now starting to realise how these solutions can actually improve their occupational environment and make the workplace a nicer place to be.
Technology can also improve the mental working environment. Tasks that robots can take over are often those which employees consider the most boring and monotonous. These are also physically difficult tasks and, as the solutions eliminate much of the monotony from the workplace, it makes employees’ working days more varied and satisfying.
In an era when many companies find it difficult to recruit production-line employees, the implementation of robots can actually also make it easier to attract employees while retaining and creating new jobs. Businesses become more attractive workplaces by being able to offer more interesting jobs, particularly to young people who tend to avoid applying for hard physical jobs in the manufacturing industry.
All in all, robots and automated systems can enhance workplaces with soft values: satisfied employees, fewer sick days, fewer occupational accidents and easier planning are all good arguments, and the potential for significant financial gains for the company by automating its production processes doesn’t hurt either.