Fall protection system for optimized maintenance processes in high-bay warehouses
Climbing ladders on storage and retrieval machines for maintenance or repair work is laborious for warehouse staff and poses the risk of accidents. The intralogistics specialists from MIAS at the Volkswagen plant in Zwickau found a solution by retrofitting a special kind of assistance system, the Highstep Lift. The elevator safely transports people and materials over a height of 30 meters to any desired position within the high-bay warehouse within just a few minutes.
A lack of staff and, on top of that, demographic change are putting a strain on the world of work. One solution to retaining both younger and older people in the company or recruiting new ones is an attractive operating environment with an ergonomic workplace design that is tailored to the needs of the employees. For example, in high-bay warehouses it is still the rule that storage and retrieval machines have to be climbed via ladders for repair or maintenance purposes, sometimes to dizzying heights. Before the conversion, this was also the case at the Zwickau vehicle plant of Volkswagen Sachsen GmbH.
Ergonomics is becoming more important
A total of four new two-mast stacker cranes from MIAS are in operation in the high-bay warehouse intended for buffering and providing car bodies. Three of them were installed in 2019 and one in 2020. The prerequisite for continued availability are regular inspections and maintenance measures on the four storage and retrieval machines in use. Climbing heights of up to 30 meters had to be overcome. “The physical strain of climbing was sometimes immense,” says John Schultke, series planning paint shop at the Volkswagen plant in Zwickau. “After all, equipment and tools had to be carried with us, so that the employees were completely exhausted during the conventional 15-minute climb.” This circumstance was no longer acceptable, especially for the aging workforce. At the same time, any risks of accidents should be minimized by converting fixed ladders to lifts.
Up to 150 kilograms comfortably in one tour
“We turned to MIAS with the problem and together we found a solution with the HighStep Lift that redefines the term climbing aid,” continues John Schultke. Rather, it is a portable elevator for people and material. The fall protection system from Highstep Systems AG from Dietikon, Switzerland, was developed for difficult-to-access workplaces in a wide range of industries and structures and is particularly recommended in logistics for attachment to storage and retrieval machines. It is maintenance-free and is subject to the Machinery Directive, which sets higher safety standards than standards for fixed ladders. With the HighStep system, the warehouse staff at Volkswagen in Zwickau can now reach the top levels of the racking system completely safely and quickly if necessary, while at the same time being able to comfortably carry the required material weighing up to 150 kg.
Load it up, get in and off you go
In a first step, MIAS dismantled the existing vertical ladders of the storage and retrieval machines and then attached a high-step climbing rail, which functions as a system support for the portable elevators, using specially designed brackets. Since then, employees have been able to get to their assigned location at the push of a button. The lift speed was reduced from a possible 24 to six meters per minute because a bottleneck had to be passed through. “This pace is completely sufficient for us,” emphasizes John Schultke. While the climb up to 30 meters used to take 15 minutes, today it can be done within five minutes. The staff can start work immediately without having to regain their strength. Furthermore, the subsequent transport of missing tools and/or spare parts can be initiated via remote control.
Smooth implementation in just a few days
The conversion of the stacker cranes by the MIAS team only took a week and took place in 2022 during the regular company holidays at Volkswagen at the Zwickau vehicle plant. As a result, there were no impairments, especially since the changes were purely mechanical in nature and were carried out outside of the actual device function. John Schultke also speaks on behalf of the warehouse workforce, who are pleased about this fundamental reduction in workload thanks to the “Highstep Lift”: “There is no need for tedious climbing and dragging, and at the same time the elevator strengthens the feeling of safety.” This is how the conversion from conventional fixed ladders to a modern one has On the one hand, the fall protection system meant that the staff was relieved of physically strenuous work. This strengthens motivation and increases productivity, also because maintenance and repair processes now take up significantly less time. In addition, the automobile manufacturer has installed completely new safety standards in the area of intralogistics so that accidents, such as a fall from a greater height, can be prevented.