Improve picking quality by using ergonomics in material handling

Manual picking methods in material handling have always been physically demanding. In addition, the aging demographic and decreased physical ability of older employees put further strain on operations. For these reasons, ergonomics plays a central role in the development of logistics systems. Ergonomic workplace design is also critical for younger employees, in order to avoid damage to health and to minimize sick leave. This is why SSI SCHAEFER develops solutions for innovative storage systems and high-performance conveying systems with the guiding principle of healthcare.

Decreased performance, higher error rates and increased sick leave are just some of the consequences of physically demanding tasks. About 25% of employee absences due to illness are caused by musculoskeletal disorders. Innovative technologies together with natural, human movements are crucial when designing and planning systems and work stations. All kinds of product groups are taken into consideration: silent conveying systems, visualized user guidance via screens and light displays, equipping work stations with wooden surfaces, round edges, and optimized processes for picking movements, as well as short walking distances and ideal work heights for picking automats (for example an A-Frame) and rack systems.

All these aspects of work station design are summarized as ergonomics@work!® at SSI SCHAEFER. This concept helps to counteract the consequences of manual activities along the entire material handling process chain, which puts significant stress on the human musculoskeletal system. The work stations are characterized by the fact that all movement sequences, especially lifting and carrying, are replaced by ergonomic pulling and pushing, and operators are guided by communication and display systems. With ergonomics@work!, SSI Schaefer addresses the changing requirements of work station design caused by an aging workforce.

The concept ergonomics@work! pursues four goals for the ergonomic design of manual and semi-automatic work stations.

  1. Processes and work stations are designed to minimize physical stress as much as possible.  Loads are only moved horizontally or with the gravity downwards.

  2. Movements that are not necessary for the work process are avoided. The work station is designed “around the operator” to reduce walking distances and arm movements.

  3. Increased picking quality is achieved through fatigue-free workstations with clear design, optical user guidance and sensors.

  4. The work stations are designed using shapes and materials that ideally support the workflow, facilitate freedom of movement and avoid injuries. Elements and edges are rounded off and contact surfaces are made out of wood.

Surveys conducted by the Institute for Ergonomics & Human Factors at the Technical University of Darmstadt (IAD) said the extraordinary health-preserving benefits of ergonomics@work! are a ground-breaking contribution towards sustainable material handling solutions, addressing the challenges of an aging workforce and the vital role of ergonomics.

Work station ergonomics in practice

Ergonomics are essential, especially when picking loose material. To enable an ergonomic picking process from top to bottom at an SSI SCHAEFER work station, order bins are supplied on the lower level at hip height on one long side. The conveying system supplies the source bins horizontally, presenting them to the operator at chest height and tilted by 30 degrees for optimum vision and access. In multi-order picking, several target bins can be supplied from one or more source bins, and the conveying system returns the source bins automatically to their storage location. The key advantage here is the sophisticated human-machine interface based on the ergonomics@work! concept. Light-controlled picking guidance, ergonomic design, and touch-friendly surfaces optimize processes and ease the workload.

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