Overhead Handling: Packers floored by ergonomic assist

Burke Flooring installs freestanding articulated jib crane to maintain productivity, as well as improve safety and ergonomics in its manual end-of-line palletizing process.

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Burke Flooring, a large manufacturer of flooring materials, is dedicated to using sustainable materials in its products wherever possible. While the operation is earth friendly, its ergonomic practices were suffering in its manual palletizing process, and reports of worker wrist and shoulder injuries were on the rise.

In Burke’s Orlando area DC, multiple conveyor lines deliver boxes of finished flooring products to packers, who manually pick them up and place them onto lift tables to be palletized for shipping. The boxes can be 4 feet long and weigh up to 50 pounds each. With employees moving close to 8,000 pounds each per shift, palletizing was becoming a weighty problem.

Contributing to the problem was the Florida heat and the manufacturer’s aging workforce, which is about 70% female.

The search was on for a safer, reliable method of unloading the conveyors and building the pallets. “Reliability means you can count on something every day, every shift,” says Jerry Glatz, Burke’s vice president of operations. “Once we open the doors Monday morning, we don’t stop production until Saturday.”

Burke chose a freestanding articulating jib crane (Gorbel, http://www.gorbel.com) with a 150-pound capacity, 9-foot height under boom and 12-foot span. Paired with a vacuum lifter, the articulating arm allows one worker to use a single device to unload two conveyor lines, while reaching around two building columns between the two conveyors.

After the first year, Glatz reports the freestanding articulating jib crane is meeting productivity and safety expectations while minimizing the potential for injuries.  This solution enables workers at “end of line” to do their job more effectively without fatigue being a factor, he says.

Adjusting to the new process was easy. One female operator says, “I’ve been working here for 17 years, and it’s the best improvement we’ve made since I started.  It’s like I’m not even lifting anything anymore.”

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About the Author

Lorie King Rogers
Lorie King Rogers, associate editor, joined Modern in 2009 after working as a freelance writer for the Casebook issue and show daily at tradeshows. A graduate of Emerson College, she has also worked as an editor on Stock Car Racing Magazine.

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