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New Generation of Picking Tools Promise More Productivity, Fewer Injuries in the Warehouse

A new generation of tools that range from pick hooks that cost a few dollars to sophisticated devices costing tens of thousands show promise for increased productivity and reduced injuries in the distribution center and warehouse.

(Boonton, NJ, January 20, 2011) — Walk into any DC, and you're likely to see one ergonomic nightmare after another.

Steve Lavender, a professor of integrated systems engineering at Ohio State University, recalls watching grocery DC workers take boxes off half-picked pallets by ducking into 48-inch-high pick slots while at the same time reaching out toward the far side of a 48-inch pallet to grasp back-row items.

"You look at the posture somebody's in doing this, and your back says 'ouch' just watching it," Lavender says in the January issue of industry newsletter Distribution Center Management.

The solution, Lavender hopes, is a new generation of tools that range from pick hooks that cost a few dollars to sophisticated devices that help workers unpack containers with only a fraction of the effort normally required.

Lavender's recent research, sponsored by the Material Handling Industry of America, focused on what types of equipment could be used or developed for use in DCs to ease the stress of repetitive manual handling. In one example, Lavender sees promise in devices such as the Destuffer created by Engineered Lifting Systems & Equipment. The Destuffer is an accessory to a telescoping conveyor, and it helps workers unload boxes from containers.

At the site of one of Engineered Lifting Systems' clients, workers unload boxes that weigh 50 to 70 pounds, a maneuver that requires them to hold some of the boxes overhead, then twist to set them down.

"It's just a bad ergonomic situation," says Richard Kat of Engineered Lifting Systems.

The Destuffer puts the worker on a raised platform, with an extension added to the normal conveyor, so he's no longer lifting boxes but simply pulling them out of the container. The distributor that's using the machine saw productivity go from 300 cases an hour to 450, along with fewer injuries.

Additional information on the devices that Lavender is studying appears in the January issue of Distribution Center Management.

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