Anyone who repeatedly stacks heavy boxes on a pallet can tell you—it causes great strain. Other devices on the market can help pick and place cartons, but they’re cumbersome and ergonomically unfriendly. And when you can’t pick from the top, things get even more complicated.
THE CHALLENGE: WEPCO was approached by a major plastic container manufacturer, with plants nationwide, to help them solve a problem common to many manufacturing and warehouse operations: how to reduce the strain of repetitive lifting and stretching employees had to perform.
THE SOLUTION: SmartLifter, a WEPCO innovation which works seamlessly with the Gorbel Easy Arm® G-Force®, now enables workers to pick up, move, and stack heavy boxes with only fingertip pressure.
To create SmartLifter, WEPCO began with existing technology, developed and enhanced it, then added their usual generous dose of fine industrial design. The result is an ergonomically-designed device that solves multiple productivity problems:
The BACKSTORY: The plastics manufacturer in question produces an amazing array of molded plastic containers, from prescription bottles to 5-gallon paint buckets. Their plants contain injection molding lines where plastic tubs are made and unloaded by robots.
But at the end of every line stands a person whose job is to pack, tape seal, and manually lift heavy cartons onto a pallet which is often 8 or 9 feet tall.
They brought a three-pronged challenge to WEPCO.
First, they wanted to relieve their workers of the strain of repetitive bending and lifting heavy cartons. Even their shortest operators needed to be able to place a 45-lb. box atop a 9-ft. pallet. And it had to be so easy to use that it wouldn’t slow the operator down.
Secondly, the cartons could not be reliably handled from the top, because they were only tape-sealed (so they could be re-opened later to add print graphics). Could WEPCO find a way to grab cartons on only one side, without tipping, so they could be snugly stacked onto pallets?
Thirdly, because the client reconfigures their lines often, the new lifting mechanism needed to be portable. In fact, it was their knowledge of WEPCO’s BigFoot™ portable crane base that caused them to approach WEPCO for a solution to their dilemma.
After observing operations at one of their major plants, WEPCO CEO Chris Paulsen and his engineering team went to work. They exhausted their normal resources of suppliers and traditional manufacturers. “No, it’s never been done, we can’t do it. That’s what we heard,” says Paulsen. So WEPCO devised their own conceptual design that met all of of the client’s requirements. Where technology didn’t exist, they innovated.
A few particular problems arose. If an unbalanced carton is lifted from only one side, it naturally wants to tip. Solution: WEPCO designed a balancing mechanism that automatically balances the box if it tips. What about shorter workers? How could they stack heavy cartons 8 or 9 feet high? Solution: an adjustable, oval, steering-wheel-type handle that allows cartons to be placed on tall stacks with only fingertip pressure.
The final challenge, portability, was solved by mast-mounting SmartLifters on WEPCO’s BigFoot portable base. They can be easily moved with a pallet jack or fork truck when factory layouts change. For greater range of use, they can also be underhung from a monorail.
NEW APPLICATIONS: SmartLifter reduces worker strain, increases productivity, and allows for portability. The possibilities for applications in manufacturing and distribution are endless.
HOW CAN WEPCO HELP YOU? SmartLifter is the latest in a long line of WEPCO innovations created by CEO Chris Paulsen, president Larry Strayhorn, and their team. It demonstrates WEPCO’s commitment to finding solutions that help clients solve problems. “We really enjoy it when customers bring us real-world projects that we can solve together,” Paulsen says. “We have a lot of resources available to us. When we combine persistence with available technology, all kinds of problems can be solved.”
What can we solve for you? To learn more about WEPCO Inc. and its leadership in the material handling industry, call 570-655-5951.
SMARTLIFTER IS PATENTED
"This is a great example of how, when the customer is included in the development process, everyone wins."
— WEPCO CEO Chris Paulsen