Launch Slideshow

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Automating Fiber Lifting and Carrying

Automating Fiber Lifting and Carrying

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    Filling a dispenser with a 500-pound bulk bag is quick and easy.

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    Workers can dispense fiber into the weigh bin or into the truck. With feed rates of 20 pounds per minute, the dispenser can provide real-time savings and improvements by dispensing fiber during batching.

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    When fiber addition is automated, the batchman is in control. He manages it just like an admixture in the batch program.

They encouraged “shooting hoops,” or tossing disposable bags at the truck wash station. Some load fiber on the aggregate belt or ask drivers to climb truck ladders to add bags. Others have even erected a stand-alone conveyor belt to load fiber.

Automation can eliminate employee exposure to handling, lifting, and throwing. Without automation, for every 10,000 pounds of fiber a ready-mix producer sells, employees must manually handle five tons of boxes and bags. At 25 pounds per box and one pound per bag, those five tons come in 400 boxes and 10,000 bags.

The need for safety

How important is reducing job hazards that could result in slips, trips, and falls? The U.S. Department of Labor reports that these activities account for 37% of workplace safety incidents and that the back is the most frequently injured body part in a fall. Back injuries account for one out of five workplace injuries, and OSHA estimates that 1/3 of back injuries could be prevented through better job design.

With the cost of the average back injury estimated at more than $12,000, establishing a proactive safety program is an essential part of a successful business plan. Identifying hazards and eliminating or controlling them to prevent injuries is the core of every successful safety program. OSHA defines a job hazard as an action that has the potential for harm. Each time an employee lifts a box, carries a box, or throws a bag, the potential exists for a slip, trip, or fall.

OSHA specifically recommends employees avoid carrying items up a ladder, and instead use a hoist or pulley to move items to another level. Climbing a ladder with bags of fiber in an employee's arms can be a hazard because it often prevents him from maintaining three points of contact with the ladder at all times.

Meeting the challenge

Jim Braley, ready-mix general manager for Knife River in North Dakota, started looking for a way to automatically add fiber in 2003. He wanted to improve safety after his company's leadership challenged all of the concrete operations. At the time, Braley was working at Knife River's JTL Division in Montana, which had tried several strategies to find a safer way to add fiber.

JTL moved from techniques that encouraged drivers to climb truck ladders with bags of fiber to drivers or the batchman throwing bags of fiber on the aggregate belt. At some JTL sites, workers also tried throwing bags from the wash station, but managers didn't like drivers climbing ladders with bags in their arms or standing and throwing on a platform full of boxes or bags of fibers.

“Reducing all safety risks to the lowest possible level, but still getting the job done is our focus at Knife River,” says Braley. “In 2005, we finally found an affordable dispenser that let us reduce the safety risks of adding fiber to that lowest possible level.”

In a short time, the operations team learned that automated dispenser systems worked efficiently. Drivers, the batchman, the QC department, and managers enjoy the system, says Braley.

Sold on the aspects of safety, productivity, and efficiency, one of Braley's first actions after transferring to Knife River's JTL Division in North Dakota was recommending installing automated fiber dispensers.

Mike Schultz is product development engineer at Buckeye Building Fibers. Visit www.ultrafiber500.com.