About Wienerberger UK
Wienerberger is a leading provider of wall, roof and landscaping innovations. In the UK, Wienerberger has four showrooms, 14 production sites and six distribution depots, with its head office in Cheadle, Cheshire. Wienerberger places huge importance on staff safety. It has several health and safety programmes such as the Near Miss initiative to target safety concerns raised by staff.
It was at the clay roof tile plant at Broomfleet in East Yorkshire that Wienerberger faced a significant safety, but also complex lifting and manoeuvring, challenge. The production process involves handling 24 different plaster moulds used for making clay tiles which must be continually recast and replaced.
The process is highly complex because each mould must be lifted then rotated in several multi-axis movements to ensure it is placed on the press correctly Although their manual lifting is efficient, the problem is compounded by the fact that the moulds are difficult to handle, and some weigh up to 60kgs. The operation also takes place in a confined space surrounded by potentially dangerous industrial equipment such as firing kilns and conveyors.
Staff were using a basic hoist and sling system which did the lifting, but none of the complex rotation and manipulation so it still required a lot of manual handling usually by the strongest and fittest employees. Also, manual lifting regulations have evolved. The limit for unaided lifting was 25kgs, now it is “what a person is able or prepared to lift”.
Wienerberger quickly realised that finding a solution would require detailed problem analysis and innovative thinking. The company looked at many different options and suppliers. But most of these were based on shoe-horning standard lifting techniques into what was an unusual and challenging situation.
Advanced Handling’s approach was to spend time on the factory floor observing and analysing the process and how moulds were being handled, as well as understanding how operators would prefer to work. Then Advanced Handling engineers, its in-house technical team and the Wienerberger operators worked on several different designs before creating the final solution. The result is a bespoke weightless manipulator based around fellow group company Movomech’s proven lifting technology.
The solution has been designed to lift and rotate around multiple axes, a variety of tile moulds. A framework and railing system bespoke to the restricted work area helps to make moving around the space more ergonomic and efficient. However, the design is also simple enough for Wienerberger to handle maintenance in-house. A duplicate, backup unit removes the need to stop production during maintenance or if there is a fault.
The materials handling solution at Wienerberger has transformed health and safety in the company’s tile manufacturing process and made it much easier for operators to work. The solution has far exceeded Wienerberger’s expectations in terms of its lifting and manoeuvring capability, improving health and safety and delivering value for money. For staff who handle the tile moulds, the solution has reduced significantly the threat of accidents and long-term strain injury.
For management, it expands the type of the staff able to perform what used to be a heavy lifting job. Wienerberger sees the solution as a significant showpiece for the business. It has been entered it into an industry innovation award with manufacturers from around the world visiting the plant to see it in action.