According to OSHA, glass and glass-product manufacturing plants rank among the most hazardous places to work. Recent statistics show that 43 percent of injuries in the industry typically occur while handling or transporting large sheets of glass.
Workers handling heavy sheets of glass are at special risk for back injury. Factors such as the angle of inclination of sheet glass in storage, as well as issues of bowing and venting, thickness and strength of the glass sheet, all contribute to the industry’s unusual risks.
These dangers are well-recognized at the Marvin Windows and Doors of Tennessee (WDT) plant in Ripley, TN, where extremely large, awkward and breakable components-including glass sheets weighing as much as 200 pounds-are routinely assembled into door panels than can weigh as much as 500 pounds.
For many years, Marvin WDT had to send coordinated teams of workers to lift, carry, position and lower these components without mechanical assistance. Each person had to wrangle as much as 125 to 135 pounds of fragile material. The result was a steady stream of problems.
“We saw numerous back injuries in that area,” recalls Hal Williams, safety, workers comp and wellness manager at the Ripley plant. “And, there was also a high employee turnover in that area, mainly from workers having to pick up the heavy panels and move them manually.”
To combat these problems, Marvin WDT began redesigning and retooling its production processes, investing in state-of-the-art material handling systems to reduce the risk of injuries and ease the workload. “Safety is one of the factors driving the decision to change over to the new process,” explains Williams. As it turns out, the new equipment also delivers the additional benefits of improving morale, retention and productivity.
Operators now use a lifting system to pick up sheets of glass from their original shipping crates and place them into door sashes positioned on a horizontal conveyor. Then, they use a second, larger unit to pick up an entire door panel with its glass and sash assembly for installation into a frame.
Marvin WDT made its purchase decision after inviting several vendors to present information about the capabilities of their equipment. The AirOlift lifting system turned out to offer the most flexibility, including the ability to rotate, turn and tilt heavy objects while moving them.
According to Williams, Marvin WDT originally purchased two lifting systems capable of moving 500 pounds or more, and then added two more. Although clamping systems capable of handling very delicate objects are available for the units, Marvin WDT opted for suction systems designed to specifically handle glass and other smooth-surfaced objects.
The new systems have been making it easier, faster and safer for operators. “The AirOlift equipment is performing wonderfully,” says Williams. “We haven’t had any service issues or mechanical failures. One of the safety features I really like is that if air pressure is lost, the manipulators will not release or drop the panel.
“Operators find AirOlift extremely easy to use, which is one of the things I like,” Williams points out. “The light goes from red to green to let you know you’re good to pick it up. When you release it at the other end, the green light goes back to red.
“The system is so simple to operate that the training cycle was extremely short and to the point,” adds Williams. “In fact, my team spent only about 45 minutes talking and 20 minutes doing a hands-on demonstration. Then, we just let the people work with the machine and practice with it. After a week, all six were ready to use it in actual production.”
For more information on lifting systems, call 800-605-8612 or visit www.airolift.com.