Every operation is subject to safety regulations that all employees must know and follow. But sometimes, in environments where industrial trucks and people work alongside one another, this is simply not enough. Coca-Cola European Partners France wanted to eliminate accident risks at its French plant in Les Pennes-Mirabeau, particularly those which lurk around passages and crossings, as well as boosting its existing safety standards. The solution: The Linde Safety Guard. The assistance system knows where pedestrians and forklift trucks are located at all times and alerts them to any potential dangers using optical and acoustic signals. In addition, it actively prevents accidents by automatically restricting the speed of the forklift.
There is a huge door that connects the production hall to the warehouse. Two pedestrians approach from the left, whose route of travel leads between a wall of stacked Coca-Cola boxes and a brick wall. Visibility in all directions is so obscured that it is difficult to see the crossing area in front of the door. The heavily loaded forklift truck approaching the door from the other direction cannot see anyone coming. This is a really common scenario, with similar situations occurring in countless warehouses around the world. But there is one key difference: here, in the aisles of Coca-Cola European Partners France’s factory in Les Pennes-Mirabeau, worrying about situations like this is a thing of the past.
Shortly before the pedestrians reach the door, a yellow warning signal appears on the floor of the walkway to warn of an imminent collision. At the same time, the transmitters send an alarm to the employee vest, where vibrations and acoustic signals notify the wearer of the approaching truck. The warnings transmitted by the Linde Safety Guard do their job: the pedestrians stop moving and the danger is averted.
“The new system has had a huge impact”, says Mustafa Benzaoui, “We feel better protected.” The forklift operator, with his red work vest and black safety cap, stands in the factory warehouse of Coca-Cola European Partners France in Les Pennes-Mirabeau. Industrial trucks transport two thousand pallets through the halls in this factory near Marseille every day. The factory fills 45 million drinks crates each year: efficient and precise goods handling are key, and safety is absolutely critical. “Employee safety has always been a major focus for us”, says Plant Manger Laurence Vanparis. “That is why we went looking for the best safety assistance system for the team.” And that’s how the decision-makers found the Linde Safety Guard. They quickly realized that this is a new generation of assistance system that can solve several problems at once.
An intelligent solution to a major problem
Plant management in Les Pennes-Mirabeau had its eye on two main danger zones. Besides the pedestrian crossing at the door to the warehouse there was a narrowing of the path where visibility was limited, and it was difficult for oncoming forklifts to pass by one another. So Coca-Cola European Partners France installed a traffic light system. While this improved safety, it also caused other problems, because the traffic light caused the forklift trucks to stop even if there was no oncoming traffic. The Linde Safety Guard delivered a simple yet elegant solution: when a forklift truck approaches, the truck’s transmitter unit automatically activates the traffic light’s switching system. This keeps the accident risk low without affecting the efficient flow of goods.
Plant managers and safety officers the world over have to mitigate the risks associated with highly frequented areas, sections with poor visibility, narrow passages, or even just places at which trucks and pedestrians cross paths. In France, this leads to around 8,300 accidents involving pedestrians and industrial trucks each year. Even if no one is harmed, these incidents lead to costs, downtimes, and productivity losses – all reasons why the plants operated by Coca-Cola European Partners France have such strict safety rules. And additional warning signs draw attention to possible dangers.
The Linde Safety Guard was the result of a university research project, which then underwent further development until it was ready to be launched onto the market. The system uses signals in the ultra-wideband range to detect whether pedestrians and trucks are getting dangerously close to one another. LED lights and acoustic alarm signals alert everyone involved to imminent collisions. Pedestrians receive an additional warning through a vibrating component. The movements of forklift trucks and pedestrians can even be detected through walls and racking systems.
The Linde Safety Guard uses this data to inform forklift operators of the exact direction from which a pedestrian is approaching. To make the warning even more effective, a stationary warning projector was installed on the ceiling of the doorway in the warehouse in Les Pennes-Mirabeau. When a forklift enters the door’s warning area, a yellow warning signal appears on the floor to warn pedestrians.
In the meantime, Coca-Cola European Partners France has equipped 18 forklift trucks with the Linde Safety Guard. At the same time, employees have been given mobile receivers, which are kept on wireless chargers in their lockers so that they are always ready to go. This is yet another measure that shows just how carefully and precisely the company organizes the entire safety process to achieve the greatest possible benefit. Visitors receive a mobile unit when registering, even before they enter the plant.
“It’s all about communication”
“The modularity is one of the great benefits of the system”, says Denis Jobert, Product Manager Safety & Retrofit Solutions at Fenwick-Linde: “In the mobile version, you can equip trucks and people or place it in stationary positions on shelves, walls, and doorways. All the components communicate with each other.” The vibration warning in particular can be critical for pedestrians in a loud work environment. The system calculates the positions of trucks and people to an accuracy of ten centimeters and only issues a warning if an imminent danger exists. This precision prevents employees from having to deal with unhelpful alarms going off for no real reason, which they eventually just ignore.
A display informs forklift truck operators of how many people are near the truck and the direction from which they are approaching. The radius of the warning zones is freely configurable and can be tailored to the company’s specific safety requirements. This offers a huge advantage over assistance systems that only use general circular warning zones. Many forklift operators have to do a great deal of maneuvering and really need a constant 360-degree view of their immediate surroundings. Simply saying that a person is somewhere nearby is not really enough for genuine safety. The operator needs to know whether this person is behind, in front or next to them. “The assistance system certainly does not mean that operators and pedestrians no longer need to pay attention”, says Christian Stein, Consultant Linde Safety Guard, Linde Material Handling. “But an active, mutual warning can provide that critical extra second to respond.”
“It will improve our safety culture as a whole”
If asked to do so, the Linde Safety Guard can limit the speed of forklift trucks in certain situations. The plant of Coca-Cola European Partners France in Les Pennes-Mirabeau uses this option at a narrow point with slight bends. The full range of benefits of the Linde Safety Guard are on clear display whenever two forklift trucks approach in this area: it sends a signal warning of an oncoming truck to the operators, automatically slows the driving speed, and communicates with a traffic light system, which gives right of way to the truck that arrives first.
The system allows users to set up entire zones in which trucks are limited to a set speed. The speed of the trucks is automatically limited once they enter the defined area. At Coca-Cola European Partners France a great deal of time and effort went into fine-tuning and introducing the system. All the affected departments, such as Engineering, Logistics, and Safety, were consulted: “It was team work all-round”, emphasizes Philippe Raphael, Senior Manager Logistics: “A large number of employees were involved in the process and all are now trained in the new system. We are absolutely convinced that this will improve our safety culture as a whole.”
At the same time, the introduction of the Linde Safety Guard was, in many respects, a welcome opportunity to provide training for employees and increase their awareness of safety. And the company was naturally supported by Linde safety experts: “We go to the customer, analyze the warehouse, and help with the initiation and implementation”, says Stein. This service is part of the comprehensive Linde Safety Guard safety concept.
The result: everyone in Les Pennes-Mirabeau now feels safer – forklift operators as well as pedestrians. “Of course, you cannot rely on technology alone”, Plant Manager Vanparis reminds us. But technology can help in a range of important areas. At Coca-Cola European Partners France, the results speak for themselves: at the two most hazardous areas, there have been zero incidents reported since the Linde Safety Guard was introduced.