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Success with Ergonomics
Advanced Filtration Systems, Inc.

State: Illinois
Company: Advanced Filtration Systems Inc.
Industry: Manufacture of Diesel Engine Filters SIC Code: 3599
NAICS Code: 336339
Employees: 164

Success Brief: Implementation of a robotic de-palletizing system eliminated musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) to the hand and wrist, and substantially reduced the risk of back injuries. 

The Problem
Employees removing filter cans from palletized boxes had to perform a series of motions that increased the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Specifically, full fiberboard boxes of filters had to be moved into position and manipulated on a lift/tilt pallet table to enable the operator to remove the cans from the boxes (See Picture #1 below of manual de-palletizing). Operators then had to turn to the right to pick up 2 to 4 cans weighing approximately 4 to 6 pounds each from the fiberboard box, and then place the cans onto a horizontal input chute. The operators were required to pick up the cans using a pinch grip, and bend and over-exert their hands and wrists almost continually throughout the operation. Several cases of carpel tunnel syndrome were reported as a result of this process, and other operators complained of elbow sensitivity and muscle sprains.

Manual De-palletizing

The Solution

A robotic de-palletizing system was designed and implemented that eliminated the need to handle individual filter cans, and thus substantially reduced the hand and wrist motions required of process operators. Operators now load pallets of cans into the system with a forklift and remove loaded slip trays from the system with a hand-operated pallet jack (See Picture #2 below of "Robot Filter Can De-Palletizing System"). Although the system still requires some manual handling of the loaded slip trays and of empty pallets, these tasks are sufficiently intermittent to not pose a significant MSD risk.

Robot Filter Can De-Palletizing System

The Impact
The robotic filter can de-palletizing system has eliminated 100 percent of the MSD risk to the operatorís wrist and hand. (No carpel tunnel cases have been reported since the automated system was implementation). Ninety-five percent of the risk of developing a back or spine MSD has been eliminated. In addition to the ergonomic benefits of the automated system, the risk of cumulative hearing loss has decreased because the operator no longer spends most of his or her time next to the noisy process machine, and the risk of injury from moving parts has been greatly reduced by the systemís light curtains and interlocked doors. 

Beside the safety benefits, the automated system has significantly increased process efficiency and reduced product damage. The company also noticed an increase in operator morale upon implementing the new system. Employees in this area now enjoy the greater sense of prestige and job satisfaction that comes from operating an electronic system, as opposed to manually handling products and moving equipment.

Source: Mr. Richard Jesse, Associate Environmental Engineer, Advanced Filtration Systems, Inc. (October 2003).
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