Australia, Companies, Features, Intralogistics systems, Logistics, Supply Chain

Forming function in intralogistics

Continuous testing is done once the solution’s been implemented. Image: vectorwin.

MHD sits down with Argon & Co’s Mechanical Engineer and Solutions Design Consultant, Gerhard de Bruyn, to speak about solutions in intralogistics that are not only functional, but factor in occupational health and safety.

When focusing on intralogistics-related solutions, it’s integral to determine what their functions are before factoring in occupational, health and safety (OH&S) guardrails. 

As a mechanical engineer and solutions design consultant at Argon & Co, Gerhard de Bruyn looks at a prospective solution and divides it into its core components. 

Once these are established, constraints can be added – these can be environmental, physical or financial. He says communicating with stakeholders and clients is crucial – as is separating tasks into their core principles. 

ESTABLISHING FUNCTION WITH SAFETY

“By understanding the core and the constraints surrounding it, and ensuring it’s properly communicated between all relevant parties, it enables you to ensure the process is going to be successful,” says Gerhard de Bruyn, Mechanical Engineer and Solutions Design Consultant at Argon & Co.

“It might seem counterintuitive, but initially, I ignore the safety aspect and solely look at the function. You don’t want something that’s 100 per cent safe yet zero per cent unusable. A car – for example – is an inherently dangerous machine, but you need to use it. The only way to guarantee 100 per cent safety is to not drive the car, but that then renders it useless.”

Gerhard notes it’s necessary to look at what the ramifications are if something was to go wrong. It’s always function first then safety because there’s no point adding safety to a dysfunctional solution.

A project Gerhard’s working on has involved a client and vendor looking at the solution and realising there’s no proper maintenance access. It’s an unsafe space because someone could become trapped inside.

In the event of a bigger emergency, no one will know that person’s left inside because there are no lockout tagout procedures; there’s no fencing around it, and there’s nothing to indicate someone’s in there. 

“Whilst you may be complying with the machine safety standards, you’re not complying with access standards,” explains Gerhard. “And they don’t amount to egress standards.” 

The egress requirements are set out as part of the NCC (National Construction Code) Part D. Simply boiled down, it is the distances to exits, decision points along the way, and fire safety measures to ensure safe egress from a building in case of an emergency.

A holistic approach is required when designing these solutions. Gerhard says he checks who or what will use the solution, such as a picker or packer at a packing station. 

“You need to ensure the operator 

has everything they need to fulfil the function and to do so safely,” he adds. 

“Ergonomics are also considered to prevent repetitive strain injuries, back injuries, and any other potential accidents. You design what’s fit-for-purpose and it’s for the 99th percentile, not just the 95th percentile.” 

USING A HOLISTIC APPROACH

“When looking at a holistic approach to design, the iterative design process is paramount because you don’t necessarily get it right the first time,” says Gerhard. “You soundboard it against the stakeholders; you work with experts; you receive feedback; and you develop the whole process.”

By talking to the operators who will use the prospective solution, Gerhard can gauge their ideas and consider them when refining his designs. “Once you have those biased opinions, you take a step back, observe the current process or processes similar in other sites or policy experience.

“What is the action going to achieve? Can we bypass it? Can we break down the tasks into more logical pieces? One person can do more of a streamlined process, which might mean less thinking or repetitive strain is necessary.”

Additionally, Gerhard researches what technologies his clients could deploy and establishes whether they comply with relevant Australian standards or not. 

A holistic approach is required when designing intralogistics solutions. Argon & Co. Image: Molostock.
A holistic approach is required when designing intralogistics solutions. Argon & Co. Image: Molostock.

“I’ll work with fire engineers and talk to the fire departments to ensure what we’re doing is complying with what they need on site, such as how they can enter the site and if they accept the technologies that have been selected,” he explains.

“Start conversing with the clients to break down what you’re going to do and understand they’re involved in the process, so they know what’s being done and they agree with the proposal. Communicate the changes to them.

“Redundancies are only applicable when the result of not having a backup safety feature could be severe or fatal. I don’t need a failsafe if my pen stops working, I can just replace it. But if an elevator fails, you need those emergency brakes to kick in.”

TESTING, COMPLYING AND TRAINING 

Gerhard notes most times, the redundancy comes at the cost of the function. But the function’s already stopped at this point and safety is of paramount importance. 

If it’s life threatening or could cause severe injury, redundancies are required. This can relate to material handling equipment such as pallet moving cranes with light curtain safety sensors and fail-safe brakes when power is lost or AGVs with multiple layers of safety redundancies ranging from audio/visual indicators, laser scanners, speed monitoring, zone control, emergency stops, etc.

Continuous testing is done once the solution’s been implemented. It takes time to ramp up because the people involved need to be trained. With the feedback received, required minor changes can be made because it’s difficult to get it right from the get-go.

“The continuous feedback loop ensures potential hazards are identified early on during the project,” adds Gerhard. 

“All the experience built up along the way enables us to eliminate most of these factors and potential hazards. It’s still crucial to have the continuous feedback loop or testing to guarantee it works for that specific end user as every project is unique.” 

Adhering to the relevant standards ensures the site and working environment is safe. Further, there’s a financial benefit as it helps the client obtain insurance coverage for their site and reduces the likelihood of rectification required leading to a warehouse that can become operational sooner.

On-site training is done with small groups. This is what Gerhard considers to be the best way to ensure operators use the technology safely. 

The team leaders know who their colleagues are and can personalise the information for them when they deliver the training. Regulations are sometimes updated, and new processes implemented, requiring routine refresher courses. 

“A well-informed user is less likely to make mistakes,” says Gerhard. “Always follow all the new protocols and establish a safety culture, which customers are pushing towards as a core principle.” 

For more information on Argon & Co, click here

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