Equipment & Technology

Staying safe through automation

COVID-19 has accelerated the uptake of automated technology. Braden Goddin, Sales and Marketing Manager at Aurora Process Solutions, speaks with ABHR about how safety has been the driving factor behind the move towards automation.

It’s a basic fact of epidemiology that people now understand all too well: the more space there is between people, the harder it is for viruses to spread.

This logic has seen businesses around the world adapt how their staff operate, but in the bulk-handling industry, that’s often easier said than done.

Braden Goddin, Sales and Marketing Manager at Aurora Process Solutions, said while social distancing could be easily arranged for open plan office jobs, it’s a lot harder to introduce it into processing lines.

“You can’t easily space out or rearrange process equipment. The vast majority of machinery isn’t designed for this, and to make things worse, there is a high degree of coordination required between tasks,” he said.

“You need to automate to minimise human contact in the workplace without a drop in production rates.”

Automating processing equipment for small-to-medium enterprises is Aurora’s specialty. The company provides semi- and fully-automated machinery for the packaging, conveying, conditioning, and palletising of bulk commodities.

In particular, the company targets first time automators, working closely with them to find the most effective parts of the process to upgrade.

Goddin said the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the uptake of automated processing machinery, as businesses aim to improve safety and reliability.

“For most businesses, their staff is their greatest asset. Keeping them safe from disease or injury is of utmost importance,” he said.

Palletising, packing, filling bags and wrapping often require moving heavy bags and manually placing them in specific locations. One of the downsides of this task is the chance of repetitive strain injuries. Repeating motions day in day out with heavy objects can cause tendon, muscular and skeletal injuries over time.

There is also certain degree of human error that can occur when palletising. If a bag isn’t placed properly, it can mean pallets don’t fit in shipping containers or on transport trucks causing delays getting product to market.

Goddin said removing people from interacting with heavy industrial machinery makes the process safer. Coincidentally, the secondary packaging process requires the highest amount of manual labour and is the easiest to automate.

“If you look at the number of forklift-related injury incidents reported each year, you can see the risks of having humans working nearby,” he said.

“In a lot of areas, we see jobs that humans just shouldn’t be doing at all. Things like moving 25kg packaging around a factory all day or presenting empty bags onto a filling head.

“These jobs aren’t taking advantage of the remarkable capacity of humans, they’re mundane tasks that can be physically gruelling and potentially dangerous.

“We are here to help businesses intelligently automate to get the most out of their valued team members and improve their working conditions.”

One of the misconceptions around automation that Aurora often hears is the idea that industrial automation requires significant inhouse technical resources to manage.

To help alleviate this concern, Aurora Process Solutions has developed an augmented reality service and operation support system. The technology is based on similar military technology designed to help soldiers repair equipment or assemble hardware on deployment in remote locations.

According to Goddin, this immediate remote support is critical for the many regional and rural businesses that can’t wait the two days for someone from Melbourne or Sydney to arrive.

“Product development has come a long way in regard to user experience and intuitive operation,” he said.

“Ease of use and simplicity has developed to the point where many of the machines can be considered plug and play. If you can operate a smart phone, then you have the capability.”

Aurora employs a dedicated safety officer whose primary role is to get involved with projects from the beginning and work with the customer as an advocate for machine safety.

Based in New Zealand with operations in Newcastle, New South Wales, and distribution centres in Melbourne and Sydney, the safety officer also works to ensure the company’s machines are compliant to the local region’s regulations.

“It can be a time-consuming job, but it is important we have our finger on the pulse,” Goddin said. “These are critical safety regulations that need to be followed and we have to be on the ball to keep up with them.”

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