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February Roundup: Automated Systems & Machine Guards, Deep Lane Flow Testing

Also, a visualization of manufacturing output since 1970

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This month, we’re covering the need to protect workers against increasingly common accidents involving automated machinery, the design of deep lane pallet flow, the “tipping point” for automation and more in the world of manufacturing, distribution and warehousing.

MHI: Focus on protecting workers near automated systems and robots

MHI is an excellent source for industry news and information on a variety of topics. They’re the folks who bring us ProMat and Modex along with industry focused groups. ProGMA – the protective guarding manufacturers association – recently laid out the issues surrounding machine guards and equipment.
machine guard installed around a conveyor system in a manufacturing facility

Key takeaways

  • Machine guarding OSHA violations have been in the top ten for over twenty years. Given the expansion of automated systems, that’s not likely to change. The costs are staggering – $44 billion in lost productivity, $61 billion in administrative costs $39 billion in medical expenses and another $25 billion or so in lost time and damage. That was a bill of about $164 billion in 2020 alone. The average injury due to machine guarding violations was $44,000 when that injury required a doctor’s visit.
  • Guarding isn’t expensive compared to the machinery it guards and the staggering losses it protects workers and companies from.
  • Automated systems like robotics are proliferating throughout the U.S. industrial base, in warehouses and factories alike. This means more robots and other machinery around more workers every day. Those systems are safe, but need to be guarded to protect people who work around them. Automation tends to make people safer as it frequently replaces people in hazardous and non-ergonomic work. But it is still machinery, and people shouldn’t be working next to moving gears, arms or other components.

“When considering all the direct and indirect costs associated with injuries caused by insufficient or missing protective guarding, installing and regularly verifying the proper function of barriers and other safety shields and devices should be considered necessary and an easy decision to implement.” 

Safety ROI is tough to define

After all, you’re investing in the hope you’ll never need the investment. The forklift driver never runs over a pedestrian; someone may never fall over a dock edge or pick module; a conveyor may never catch that bit of loose clothing. But the reality is that machine guards and other safety equipment tends to pay for itself by avoiding a single incident.

If you never cash in on your safety investment, it’s a very good thing. Read more: Safety and ROI


Visualization: world share of manufacturing output 1970 – 2018


Mallard: Design & safety tips for deep-lane pallet flow

Deep lane pallet flow test at Mallard Manufacturing

Deep lane pallet flow — the kind that can slot 20 pallets deep in a single lane — can compete with automation when it comes to storage density, but requires carefully considered design decisions. Because it’s so space-efficient, this method works well in cold chain applications. One of the reasons we work with Mallard is its commitment to testing and ensuring the rack flows safely and correctly for the application and load. This post dives into these factors in detail.

Key takeaways

  • The need for pallet separators within these systems.
  • Discussions of speed controllers – a critical safety component for pallet flow.
  • A detailed discussion of back pressure and how to calculate it.
  • The absolute necessity of standard pallet sizes in a deep lane system.

Quick hits

  • In “Automation is at a Tipping Point”, Chief Executive’s Dale Buss writes that “U.S. companies are trying to replace workers with machines at record pace.” The basics align with the reality of an expanding American industrial base and shrinking work force. In an environment of inflationary pressures and limited labor availability, Buss reports that 51% of companies with at least $250 million are investing in automation.
  • “The Six Different Rack Safety Inspections Needed During A System’s Lifetime” by the RMI (Rack Manufacturing Institute) covers the need to inspect racks from (1) the point of manufacturing, (2) after shipment, (3) during installation, (4) post-installation, (5) periodically during yes, and (6) after any damage. All good advice.
  • Handle-It has a piece on “How to Properly Stretch Wrap a Pallet of Boxes” that covers the fundamentals of assessment, loading, setup, wrapping film coverage, testing and more. Stretch wrapping is an area ripe with opportunities to save time and money because it’s so labor and material intensive, so this is a good starting point.

Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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