In the safety world the ability to “engineer out" a potential risk is the ultimate goal. Being able to do that with a product you already have on site takes that accomplishment to the next level.
“When you engineer the risk out that means you prevent the opportunity for human error," said Tanner Piepenbrink, safety professional at John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline, Illinois.
What Harvester engineers and factory automation members did was so efficient and effective it earned the facility a 2019 John Deere Safeguarding Award for Proactive Risk Reduction. The Combine Immobilizer and Ubisense Integration project combined existing tools (Ubisense's location software) with new technology (the combine Immobilizer harness) to generate a risk priority number (RPN) reduction of more than 1,100 points.
For those unfamiliar with RPN reductions – taking potential hazards and reducing their likelihood – this reduction was half of Harvester's factory-wide goal for one quarter and it was generated by a single project.
Harvester Works engineers found a way, Piepenbrink said, to better utilize a tool Harvester already had in the facility and then expanded upon it in a way that was “innovative and efficient for our operators."
How it works
Ubisense is a tracking software often used for completed products stored in a warehousing lot. There is a device attached to the product that allows its whereabouts to be monitored via a wireless network and scanners.
“We had several Near Miss incidents involving the end of the assembly line and objects being left in the way of the combine as it was driven off the line," Piepenbrink added. “Once we began driving the combine down the assembly line, we were reliant on people's behaviors and safe decision making because there were no engineering controls to fall back on."
The team expanded the factory's Ubisense coverage to an additional 90,000 square feet of assembly line space. By tagging items that could come in contact with the combine – rolling stairs, hoists, work platforms, and manipulators – they can locate where they were and whether they would pose a risk. To assure combines are not advanced while people or assets are left in the way, the team added a temporary immobilizer harness to the combine that receives the Ubisense signals, disabling the machine until all items are clear or put in their home position. It can also display exactly which item was in non-compliance on the operator's computer screen.
“It is a fail safe that reaffirms that 'Yep, I did bring my ladder back to the position that it's supposed to be. My hoist isn't hanging in the grain tank and could get caught up on something,'" Piepenbrink said. “The operators really like that. It is an extra level of security and peace of mind for them."
There is even an added quality component to the project as the harness gets feedback from the Ubisense tags and JDAAT (John Deere Assembly Assist Tool) letting it know if all operator critical tasks are complete. Once everything checks out the immobilizer harness is then taken off and used on another machine.
The next step, of course, is figuring out where else the system can be used. Piepenbrink said with the development of additional immobilizer wire harnesses, this project could be implemented on any John Deere equipment. Facilities with products that are pushed or pulled down an assembly line (like planters) with powered tuggers or pushers could also benefit from the project.
Harvester's winning project is an example of Deere's 2022 Sustainability Goals for Occupational Safety: Achieve safety excellence through increased focus on leading indicators, risk reduction, health and safety management systems, and prevention.