Materials Handling Automation Innovations include Safety and Ergonomics

Obviously, there is no greater concern than the safety, health, and lives of workers.  Profits, while very important, are secondary to lives. The notions of safety and profitability are not mutually exclusive. Avoiding costly worker’s compensation costs, wrongful death and injury lawsuits, and reducing a wide variety of injury-related costs, allow organizations to utilize resources to improve safety, productivity, product quality, and overall business competitiveness.

Ed Brown (founder of Topper Industrial) is considered the father of the North American fork truck free (FTF) movement.  Brown said, “The fork truck free approach will work for any company that operates production lines and processes that are normally fed materials using forklifts; many leading distribution centers are considering driverless options.” Safety was the initial driver of the FTF movement with material handling equipment including industrial carts, conveyors, lifts, lifts & tilts, shipping racks, containers, casters, and cart components. Products which keep material moving from the dock, to the cart, to the assembly line emphasize the importance of ergonomics and safety as top priority.

More than 50% of all new distribution centers have a statement requiring that all new lines will be FTF. The need for creative innovation solutions is in direct proportion with the demands of complexity, kitting, and efficiency while increasing safety, reducing line side inventory, delivering parts accurately, and increasing quality.

Training initiatives, meticulously reviewed safety protocols, and reviewed and revised standard operating procedures (SOPs), have not eliminated the dangers that forklifts present to manufacturers. After decades of systematic process improvements in the use of forklift operations in warehouses, distribution centers, and manufacturing plants, many companies, industry leaders, and politicians are concluding that forklift-free environments may be the only fail-proof approach to ensuring safety.

Every year hundreds of people are killed using forklifts worldwide. Federal OSHA estimates that in the United States alone, there are nearly 100 worker fatalities and another 20,000 seriously injured in forklift-related incidences annually. OSHA estimates that there are 110,000 forklifts accidents each year and $135 million immediate costs are incurred due to forklift accidents.

Approximately every three days, someone in the U.S. is killed in a forklift related accident and almost 80% of forklift accidents involved a pedestrian. One-sixth of all workplace fatalities in the U.S. are forklift related. 34,000 injuries are treated in emergency rooms every year due to forklift accidents and 25% of all fatalities involving forklifts are due to forklift rollover accidents.

Beyond the serious and very real safety concerns (most critical) there are real costs associated with forklift operations. There are extensive costs for operator training, plant layout restrictions due to forklift aisles, damage to facilities and parts, maintenance, and fuel that can add up quickly. Given these extensive safety considerations, additional cost burdens, and underutilization, there is pressure to aggressively seek alternatives to forklifts that can accomplish the same job (material flow and movement) which are safer, less expensive, and offer improved utilization.

The other Fork Truck Free Innovation: LiftPlus

A critical analysis shows that fork trucks are used in manufacturing cells and areas of distribution centers when far less machinery is needed to move product from point A to point B. Lean manufacturing requires elimination of waste. The big hammer, a fork lift, is significant equipment overkill for many tasks. A simple kaizen event found that time spent waiting for a fork truck was easily remedied with the Magline LiftPlus. One of the greatest challenges in the packaging industry, including manufacturing cells, is tool and die set up. The challenge has been finding a mechanism that would lift the die to the required height, without the operator ever having to lift.

Not only is the fork truck too much equipment to handle the task at hand, up to 120 minutes a day waiting for fork trucks are wasted.  In materials handling, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) can be quickly retrieved using the innovative LiftPlus technology. Magline, best known for two-wheel hand trucks used in the route distribution industry has solved the heavy lifting paradigm providing an all-in-one lift, transporter, and positioner without a fork lift. The workforce multiplier kicks in productivity with no need for special training or licensing (a prerequisite of fork trucks.) The ergonomic answer to moving heavy items without a fork truck, this innovative approach is designed for ease of use, higher productivity, and keeping workers on the job and free from injuries.  It lifts 350 pounds easily with an all-metal frame platform and a screw-driven lift that delivers smooth precision that hydraulics or chains cannot match.

Andrea Horner, Magline’s vice president of marketing stated, “This powered product demonstrates the innovation commitment to the manufacturing and materials handling sectors and those customers who requested durable, ergonomic, and quality equipment to allow safe use and transport without wasting time waiting for fork lifts. The improved throughput and productivity is a direct result of time efficiencies achieved with the LiftPlus.”

These and other ergonomic, safety, and automation solutions will be featured at the National Ergonomics Conference & ErgoExpo November 15 – 18 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

About the Author

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., ( Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 6000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector and is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide. Cutler can be contacted at and can be followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler.


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