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What’s next for safety tech?

01 July 2019

As R&D manager at ELOKON, Dr. Kai Haake is best placed to talk about how software, sensor, autonomous and wireless technology can be used to devise more solutions for enhancing safety in the warehouse.

Here he gives an overview of what is happening in this sector at the moment, and to share his thoughts on future developments. 

With all the efforts that have gone into raising awareness of safety issues over the years, and in light of improvements in the design of MHE, why is the warehouse environment still seen as a potentially hazardous one? And is this just a perception or do the statistics bear this out? 

A busy working warehouse and surroundings such as outdoor loading bays come with their own set of very specific risks, due mainly to the fact that powered equipment such as forklift trucks are working in close proximity to pedestrian operatives. If not closely monitored and, wherever possible segregated, interplay between industrial vehicles and personnel can lead to serious incidents. And the statistics make for sad reading: whereas accident rates in other industry sectors have fallen year on year, this is not the case in the warehousing sector.

In fact according to statistics forklifts are officially the most dangerous form of workplace transport in the country. On average five people are hospitalised every working day due to forklift truck accidents, and some of these sustain life changing injuries. Pedestrians are particularly at risk - accounting for 57% of those injured or killed (British Safety Council / FLTA). Improved warehouse safety is therefore still a major priority to reduce hazards for all employees.     

How can technology play its part in this? 

Human error is the main cause of accidents, just as it is with road accidents, but using technology - so called electronic guardian angels, for example - can counteract potential failures in human behaviour. Harnessing the power of technologies such as ultrasound, radar, lidar, RFID and UWB can enable the creation of protective zones around personnel and forklifts, in working aisles and in danger zones. Safety and assistance systems similar to those now standard on cars and commercial vehicles can be installed on forklifts to give various types of alerts to warn drivers and pedestrians of impending danger and to intervene autonomously to slow vehicles down in hazardous areas.  

What specific products can ELOKON offer to protect the workforce?  

The majority of our products work on a “detect and prevent danger/risk” system. VNA operation can be particularly risky due to the limited vision of the operator and the speed at which trucks typically operate to keep pace with demanding loading schedules. ELOprotect is a mobile personnel protection safety system based on the use of laser scanners which detects the presence of personnel in narrow aisles and automatically brakes the truck and warns the driver.

The proximity identification assistance system ELOshield is radio-based and enables protection zones to be individually configured around free roaming forklifts to flag up when personnel encroach the danger area. Both products can also prevent truck-to-truck collisions. ELOspeed is a radar-based sensor system that automatically slows forklifts down during the transition from outdoor to indoor operation, which can be a particularly high risk operation. Unfortunately it is human nature to disregard certain rules or cut corners, but this autonomously enforces the different speed limits in these areas.  

What innovations can we expect from ELOKON in 2019? 

ELOfleet - the innovative smart-phone based forklift fleet management system controlled by an app is planned for launch in the UK in the near future. The app is simply installed on customers‘ existing smartphones and tablets, making it intuitive and very cost-effective to use. Features to promote safer and more accountable forklift operation will include access control to ensure that only authorised persons can operate a truck, the straightforward completion of mandatory safety checklists, impact monitoring and of the course the provision and analysis of a host of operational forklift data. 

Wearables – smart devices or clothing – are also being increasingly used in the warehouse to safeguard personnel or make their jobs easier, particularly in light of the increased use of AGVs, robots and cobots in this environment. We are investigating how we can exploit our expertise in the various technologies used in other products to incorporate these in our product portfolio.  

So all in all it’s going to be a busy second half of the year for my team in the ELOKON R&D department.

 
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