Despite the stereotype often promoted by the general media and politicians, automation has not replaced every manual task in manufacturing plants. Many thousands of U.S. workers lift heavy objects around their workstations all day, every day. Fortunately, an increasing number of their employers are ergonomically aware and providing them with state-of-the-art cranes, hoists, work positioners and assist devices that lessen the lift strain.

Automotive OEMs worldwide understand the importance of proper ergonomics, and how custom list-assists can achieve this goal. Nissan North America and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, for example, recently had equipment specialist Ergo Mechanical Industrial (EMI) develop lift assists for sunroof-module and hybrid-battery operations, respectively.

For many years at the Nissan plant, two workers manually lifted each P32R sunroof module from the unloading area and placed it onto a delivery system that is 68 inches high. Two workers were needed to carefully move the two-part glass module, which measures 52 by 38 inches and weighs 50 pounds. However, the manual approach proved too slow when the plant needed to increase production to 70 modules per hour a few years ago.

Nissan managers discussed the situation with EMI, which designed and built a fully pneumatic lift assist to move the module. Guided by an operator, the assist picks up the sunroof, rotates it 90 degrees and places it on the delivery system. Nissan not only met its higher productivity requirements, but the company also substantially lowered its labor costs.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing faced a different challenge: Integrating a hybrid-vehicle-battery handling and placement operation with those for several types of standard engines, in a facility with limited open space. Another difficulty was the battery’s large size (324 by 37 inches) and weight (2,500 pounds), which prevented any manual handling.

Aware of these limitations, EMI designed and built a pneumatic lift assist (with clamping end-effector) to lift the battery from a flow rack and transfer it to the rear of the vehicle. Before installing the assist in the plant, EMI engineers conducted extensive trials at its shop. On the assembly line, one worker automatically controls the lift assist to ensure that it maintains specified cycle times.

EMI specializes in mechanical installation and turnkey projects. These range from rigging and installing machine centers, to relocation services, equipment refurbishing and scheduled maintenance. The EMH Systems division handles custom design and manufacturing; Tennessee Valley Industrial performs all industrial general contractor and mechanical installations.

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