A drop in worker morale caused by heavy physical work led James Hardie Bathroom Products to review health and safety conditions on the factory's assembly line and install innovative lifting equipment machinery to combat problems of injury and physical fatigue.
Located in Moss Vale, New South Wales, James Hardie Bathroom Products manufactures domestic gas and electric hot water systems. When the factory relocated to the Southern Highlands five years ago, the manual lifting practices which had been common all along the assembly line came under the scrutiny of management.
Workers were being required to lift and manipulate steel tanks at various stages on the assembly line, including palletising the packaged product. The heaviest tanks weigh 80kg and two men were needed to lift them.
Complaints of muscle soreness, back, arm and leg strain were frequent and morale among the workers was low. The work was so physically demanding that no-one wanted to do it and absenteeism increased.
According to Colin Gibson, Projects Manager at James Hardie Bathroom Products, the situation required urgent attention.
After assessing a number of options, the Engineering Department decided to install industrial manipulators and contacted Dalmec.
During the five year period from November 1989 to September 1994, Dalmec has installed seven pneumatic manipulators at the factory, each with specialised tooling designed for particular applications.
Five of the machines were designed with gripping jaws to lift and manipulate the hot water tanks at various stages on the assembly line, ranging from loading steel tanks on and off the enamelling chain to carefully handling the finished product.
A further two machines were installed with vacuum operated tooling to lift and palletise the packaged hot water heaters at the end of the production line. These units are suspended from an overhead tracking system and are capable of lifting up to 120kg.
With the introduction of the new manipulators, the employees previously required to manually lift the tanks became the operators of the equipment, and the positive result,, were evident immediately.'
A bonus for the factory has been that one employee can now complete a task which previously required two people, and the equipment's flexibility and case of handling has enabled the factory to easily maintain its flow of goods.