In the ongoing showdown between productivity and safety on the plant floor, material handling might be ground zero.
Plant efficiency, if you boil it down enough, basically means just getting stuff from one place to another as fast as possible. And moving stuff as fast as possible is exactly how workers get hurt and equipment gets damaged.
Over the last few months, we have been writing about some very clever systems designed to offset this productivity vs safety battle, covering everything from autonomous material transport to customized Power Pushers that let single workers move 50,000 pounds of stuff without breaking a sweat (or their backs).
These solutions are perfect for most plant environments, but there is one place left where few tools like this have ever reached.
Class 1, Division 1 environments are, by definition, the most hazardous industrial zones possible. They are characterized by the presence or possibility of gases or airborne combustible materials that any stray spark or breakdown could result in massive explosions, destruction, and injuries. Scary, intimidating places to work.
These are places, however, where Nu-Star, Inc. sees plenty of opportunities.
"These environments—whether it’s a grain mill, or a paint manufacturer, or gasoline refiner, or pharmaceutical plant—they all have things they need to move," explains Ryan Blesi, vice president of material handling and a design engineer at Nu-Star.
Moving things, he says, is what Nu-Star does best. The company also loves a good design challenge, be it an impossible new attachment or a reconfigured machine for a new job. And designing a system to move things in Class 1, Division 1 environment offered a challenge like no other.
The result of this challenge is a system Nu-Star has dubbed, the "Hazardous Duty Power Pusher."
Building the New Pusher
The design of this new machine began with the normal Power Pusher functionality, Blesi explains. But then they completely rebuilt it from scratch.
"The whole machine is different," he says. "We used special sealed bearings and axles, special tires. The handset is different, the bodywork is different. The controls inside of it have different safety features and kill switches. We used dissimilar metals, special castors, and added rubber bumpers so it doesn't create a spark if it hits something."
Basically, he says, "It's 100% custom from the ground up."
The most interesting part of the redesign, though, has to be the pressurized body.
The machine is charged off of an air-gas tank, which pressurized the entire body of the system. This means that any leak in the machine will only flow out, so no combustible vapors or materials can get anywhere close to the electronics.
Add to that the company's standard lineup of safety gear and systems, including emergency reverse belly switches and ergonomic handles, and the Hazardous Duty Power Pusher might be the safest material handling device yet.
And Nu-Star isn't stopping there.
"We continue to customize the Hazardous Duty Power Pusher, just like we do with our other equipment," Blesi says.
"We're currently working with a pharmaceutical facility that needs an intrinsically safe charger and connection so they can keep their machine in the hazardous environment all the time. They also need to do the whole thing in stainless steel, which we can do."
This perfectly sums up Nu-Star's business. The company seems to thrive on impossible design challenges and impossibly complex customizations in order to bring the right solutions to every customer. Once they finish the impossible, they start again.
"People are just generally happy that we can come in and solve a problem for them," Blesi says. "They are happy that we are willing to work with them and think outside the box on what otherwise be just another catalog item."