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Automation in the Workplace: Best Practices for Safety

February 20, 2014 | By Jeff Christensen

Workplace automation can transform your business by reducing errors, increasing efficiency, and cutting costs. In fact, while the cost of manual labor has dramatically increased in recent years, automation equipment, including robotics, conveyors, palletizers, etc., has seen a relative decrease in costs, or at very worst has held steady when the cost of everything else from land to energy to labor has increased.

This means that automation is becoming increasingly affordable to operations of all sizes and scope, not just very large facilities with high volumes of work.

So how can warehouses, factories, and other industrial operations taking advantage of manufacturing automation ensure they’re maximizing the potential of these new technologies? In other words, how can robotics and automation increase safety and enhance operational efficiency?

Here’s a look at 3 best practices for safety: Safety systems: Safety and ergonomics equipment such as safety gates, motion sensors, and guard rails help make your automation equipment safer and more productive. The advantage of this type of system is two-fold: 1) It’s inexpensive and easy to understand and, 2) It can augment the safety training already in place and lead to a safer operation that runs at peak efficiency.

Safety automation: Automation technology such as robotics, carousels, palletizers, and sortation systems can make warehouse operations safer by automating potentially unsafe tasks that would otherwise be handled by employees. Since manual labor can have an ergonomic impact on employees (especially where repetitive stress puts workers at constant safety risk), industrial automation reduces the need for workers in a dangerous area like palletizing, truck loading, or other operations where people are exposed to machinery and difficult, demanding jobs.

Safety training = first line of defense: While safety automation (including everything from steel guard rails or emergency stop switches to motion sensors and lights) can prevent or respond to hazards in a way employees cannot, it’s important to avoid over-reliance on these innovations by constantly reinforcing safety training. Safety automation solutions can enhance training and make safe environments safer, but the systems and the technology can require additional or modified training in order to deliver the degree of efficiency they’re designed to.

Final Thoughts

As advanced technologies continue to propel distribution and manufacturing operations forward (and contribute to the re-shoring of many of these types of operations), it’s more important than ever to take advantage of industrial automation to ensure your operations run at peak performance. But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean you need to sacrifice safety in the process. When it comes to automation systems, best practices for safety include a combination of safety training and safety automation equipment, which can ultimately enhance operational effectiveness.

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