Electric Tug Vehicles Proven To Reduce Injuries, Boost Productivity And Save Space
By investing in appropriate materials handling equipment, industrial companies can cut costs, boost productivity, reduce workplace injuries and save valuable storage and production space, says Andy Owen, Managing Director at MasterMover Ltd.
In the current economic climate, any way in which a manufacturing company can cut costs – by reducing labour, boosting productivity, saving valuable factory or warehouse space, or by reducing injury-related compensation claims – is surely worth a closer look.
Manual or mechanical handling, for example, including the pulling or pushing of moderate-to-heavy loads around a factory or warehouse, may seem pretty straightforward at first glance, but this is actually one area where industrial firms can cut costs and achieve greater efficiencies and productivity. After all, how many times have you seen an employee, or group of individuals, struggling to push or pull a heavy load from one side of the factory to the other? If it takes 20 minutes for a group of four people to carry out this type of task because inappropriate handling equipment is being used, what is the true cost to the business in terms of ‘lost’ production? Furthermore, what would it cost that company in a litigation claim if one of these workers were injured while pushing the load?
Improving the safety of employees and boosting staff morale are important reasons why more firms are starting to invest in pedestrian-operated tugs (electric-powered handling equipment). According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), musculoskeletal disorders are the most common occupational illness in the UK, with manual handling injuries making a significant contribution here. In fact, in the UK, around a third of all reported injuries that result in a person being absent from work for more than three days, is caused by manual handling.
HSE says that the employer should ensure that manual handling is avoided as far as is reasonably practicable, if there is a possibility of injury. If this is not possible, then the employer must reduce the risk of injury. So, with future litigation a growing concern these days, companies need to look for safer and easier methods of handling goods. Adopting a safety-first approach by risk assessing each operation or task is a good starting point.
Although most industrial firms have already invested in forklift trucks to transfer pallets or other heavy loads around the plant, many companies still rely on manual labour for many push-and-pull tasks. This not only puts employees at risk of injury, but also ignores the fact that more cost effective alternative handling equipment is now available to suit every type of handling task. Rather than having to invest in relatively costly forklift trucks (that also require a fully trained, licensed driver) or run the risk of injuries to staff caused by manual handling, companies can invest in more flexible pedestrian-operated tugs.
Pedestrian tugs are specifically designed to pull or push moderate to heavy (50kg up to 100 tonne) loads, including wheeled and non-wheeled loads. These loads could include a pallet of automotive components up to a complete aircraft fuselage or wing. Either way, a pedestrian tug can bring significant benefits to a business.
This type of handling equipment also supports existing or new business initiatives such as Just-in-Time, Kanban or Lean operations. It can improve the flow of materials around a factory or warehouse and ensure that inventory arrives in a more timely fashion at its designated production cell or line. Wasteful manual handling activities within the business are also eliminated.
Whilst a pedestrian tug does not attempt to replace all the functions and operational tasks that a forklift truck performs, it can be used to transfer small to moderate loads around the factory, faster and more efficiently than a forklift. After all, it is costly and inefficient if a forklift is used to manoeuvre a 200kg load on a pallet around a factory when it could be better utilised for lifting duties elsewhere. By using pedestrian tugs, which were designed for moving small to moderate loads, traffic around the factory or warehouse and congestion is reduced, which in turn cuts the number of accidents.
Pedestrian tugs free up staff to perform more value-added activities. In addition, the amount of product that can be stored in a warehouse is likely to be greater when using pedestrian tugs because they require less space than forklifts to manoeuvre. Likewise, in production areas, less space is needed between or at the end of production lines if tugs are used.
Due to the continuing economic slowdown of UK manufacturing, many firms have had to reduce their headcount, which means manual handling tasks can become more difficult. For example, an assembly that used to be moved manually by three people now needs to be carried out by one person. This is where pedestrian-operated tugs come into their own. Manual handling tasks can be replaced, which cuts labour costs and improves employee safety, while boosting productivity and efficiency.
Flexibility of handling equipment is also critical when companies make an investment. In the past, manufacturers of large assemblies have invested in fixed, handling tracks or transfer lines in order to move heavy loads through the assembly or production process. This requires significant capital outlay, but may not provide sufficient handling flexibility. What cost savings could be achieved if a company was able to move assemblies using one or more pedestrian tugs rather than investing in a fixed transfer line?
Furthermore, what if a fixed track were to break down, causing disruption to the assembly or manufacturing process, which is very likely in the case of moving heavy, high cost loads such as aircraft wings? If a pedestrian tug fails, it can quickly and easily be replaced, whereas a problem on a fixed transfer line is normally far more time consuming and costly to repair.