Automated barrier doors protect employees at Rubbermaid Commercial Products shipping facility | Automation.com

Automated barrier doors protect employees at Rubbermaid Commercial Products shipping facility

Automated barrier doors protect employees at Rubbermaid Commercial Products shipping facility

June 9, 2014 - Founded more than 40 years ago, Rubbermaid Commercial Products (RCP) is a brand that people have come to know and trust. The Winchester, Virginia-based company is a manufacturer of innovative, solution-based products for commercial and institutional markets worldwide. Since 1968, RCP has pioneered technologies and system solutions in the categories of food services, sanitary maintenance, waste handling, material transport, and safety products. RCP, an ISO 9001:2000 manufacturer, is part of Newell Rubbermaid’s global portfolio of brands and continues to develop innovative products.

In 2012, Rubbermaid Commercial Products added a state-of-the-art automated shipping facility to its existing Winchester, Virginia Plant. The new facility started round-the-clock operations in January of 2013, sorting orders for customers worldwide. The plant employs approximately 1,200 people, with operations supported by a 28-aisle automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) and new carton sortation conveyor system. The new conveyor system is directly integrated to the AS/RS with 56 case-pick stations designed for labor-efficient order fulfillment picking operations.

Ensuring safety
The new shipping facility uses a unique design, with case pick operations on an elevated mezzanine structure. While this design maximized space, it required a means of edge protection to prevent a series of potential fall hazard points where the mezzanine interfaces with the AS/RS. In an effort to ensure a safe work place, RCP decided to explore several options to guard the process and eliminate the fall hazard.

Three options
Three different types of physical barriers were researched and considered. All three had an automated feature, but offered varying levels of protection at different price points. One option was similar to a parking gate arm. As the least expensive option of the three, it would serve more as a visual reminder than a physical barrier for employees. The second option was a guillotine-style safety gate, which provided a physical barrier, but was not designed to withstand the expected open/close cycles of the application.  These first two options that RCP considered turned out to be relatively low-cycle devices that could be prone to extensive maintenance. The downtime associated with that maintenance would have negatively affected productivity and throughput.

The third option was a high-speed, high-cycle barrier door by Frommelt Safety called the Guardian Defender. Like the safety gate, the Guardian Defender option offered the necessary physical barrier to assure fall protection and keep someone from getting into the AS/RS area, as well as the ability to maintain visual attachment to the process. Furthermore, the doors’ roll-up design minimized their footprint in a facility that was attempting to maximize its space. Safety was enhanced by the doors’ soft bottom-edge technology and gravity-down operation. Additionally, since they could be manufactured to RCP’s exact specifications and utilized new quick-disconnect cables, they were preferable to the other options from an installation and system integration standpoint. Finally, the Guardian Defender doors were very heavy duty. Designed for millions of cycles and boasting a 500-pound rated tear-out strength on their retention balls and a fully sealed motor assembly, they would require little maintenance or costly downtime.

Automated barrier door the clear choice
When all three were placed next to each other, the decision was easy. Although it was a more costly option initially, the automated barrier door was clearly the best choice for protecting employees, minimizing downtime and keeping long-term maintenance costs low.

The end result is a seamless operation in which each of the 56 case-pick stations is equipped with a Guardian Defender door for associate safety. The doors are integrated with the controls of the new carton sortation system and are automatically operated through PLC logic.  

“The doors have been in operation for several months and are performing exactly as advertised,” notes John Elliott, senior distributions operations engineer for RCP. “The Guardian Defender doors have provided the greatest degree of safety AND operator labor efficiency for the application.”


Photo with single forklift -- The WMS that drives the unmanned material vehicles at this facility also opens and closes the doors along the route.


Photo with two doors -- Once the automated system brings a pallet to the doorway, the roll-up doors open just at that precise time when the forklifts traveling the loading dock arrive for pick-up.

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