Vacuum tube lifter enhances work climate

Production area once hidden from visitors is now a showpiece.

The Zehnder Group is a full-range supplier of radiators, convectors, heating walls and other systems for indoor climate control. With a global workforce of 3,100 employees, the company’s Gränichen site in the Swiss canton of Aargau employs 300 people who produce around 80,000 radiators every year. After transitioning from manual stacking tasks to a vacuum tube lifter, the company has improved ergonomics while achieving significant time savings.

Employees at the plant used to stack radiators weighing up to 80 kilograms onto pallets by hand. This created problems during order picking and when transferring the boxed and shrink-wrapped radiators from the packaging line onto pallets. Employees had to lift the products alone or in pairs, or use a crane and straps for heavier radiators, but the process was time-consuming and physically demanding. Some employees shifted a daily load of more than 2 tons.

Tests were conducted with mechanical grippers and other special solutions, but the movements were still too slow and laborious, or too expensive. Then the team tested a vacuum tube lifter (Schmalz) with a capacity of 110 kilograms, along with an aluminum crane system. Measuring 18 x 7.8 meters, the system covers a range of applications and packaging materials during order picking.

Daniele Abbatiello, head of surface technology/packaging at Zehnder, says the team appreciates the system’s flexibility. “Thanks to the quick-change adapter,” she says, “we can very quickly fit different grippers for packages of different sizes.”

Zehnder also opted for a silencer box with minimal noise generation and a radio remote control, which enables rapid activation and deactivation of the device. In the beginning, operators were a little taken aback by the heavy loads floating through the production hall without being secured by straps.

“Our employees quickly learned to trust the system, and now nobody wants to lift anything by hand anymore,” Abbatiello says. “The order picking processes have improved significantly. The second pair of hands that was previously needed for carrying is now being put to much better use. We used to keep this area a little hidden from visitors, but now the lifter is a highlight when showing customers our production facilities.”

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About the Author

Josh Bond
Josh Bond was Senior Editor for Modern through July 2020, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.
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