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Bladestop bandsaw safety aid

Background

Band saws are a major contributor to serious injuries (including amputations) in the meat and wood industries. Slight lapses in concentration can cause loss or partial loss of limbs, consequent loss of income and also have drastic effects on both the injured party and the company.

An American company called Saw Stop developed an innovative approach to reducing the dangerous aspects of bandsaws in the wood industry. This was once comparable with the meat industry with respect to injuries on bandsaws.

The technology available from Saw Stop is totally focused on the woodwork trades and could not be transferred as is to the meat industry.

The concept for the Saw Stop system revolves around the human body having a large 'capacitive' coupling that is drastically different to wood and therefore can easily be sensed when the finger comes in contact with the saw blade. This is not the case when applying the technology to the meat industry as a human finger and a carcass have very similar 'capacitive' coupling. The sensing technology therefore needed to be further developed to ensure a reliable operation for the meat industry.

Research

MLA approached MAR to undertake an R&D project to develop a new technology (based on an adaptation from the timber model) which consists of a circuit board that triggers a blade braking mechanism whenever human flesh is in contact with the blade. The system acts fast enough to avoid major injury to the operator.

Since commencing this project in 2006, several hurdles arose when the prototype was trialled in the rough environment of a typical meat processing plant.  Setbacks have included the need to write off circuit control boards and other equipment initially manufactured for the first installations but ultimately superseded and deemed inadequate based on the requirement for new and more reliable electronics and braking mechanisms.

The original R&D plan was to adapt the blade clipping mechanism to existing band saws. However, this approach was subsequently found to be flawed due to the multiple complications arising from integrating the electronics and mechanisms to the wide variety of band saws installed in processing plants plus the poor condition of some saws.  Eventually it was determined that the BladeStop system should be delivered via a new Thomson MK6 band saw with an integrated electronic board and a blade stopping mechanism.

Facilitated Adoption

Given the high level of risk involved (i.e. the consequences should the technology prove to be unreliable) it was considered critical that multiple in plant trial installations be completed by MAR (in strictly supervised conditions) prior to full commercialisation.  The final phases of the project therefore included provision for ongoing modifications to design plus the services of a dedicated R&D safety engineer during the installation and testing phases at each site.

There was a limit of one installation per site with the expectation that on successful completion of the project, participating sites would replace all other bandsaws with the new technology at their cost.

Participating plants co-funded this adoption trial phase via the MLA Donor Company.

In summary, it was apparent that the level of technical risk and extent of development work needed to take the technology to an operational level, robust enough to cope with the harsh environment, was significantly underestimated at the outset of the project.  This has been reflected in the greatly increased time and development cost as compared to the original R&D proposal.

In 2009, MLA funded an independent review of the current status, technical and commercial viability of BladeStop.  This recommended further development subject to various issues being addressed.

The system is designed to reduce the severity of bandsaw mishaps.  Initially the concept was to develop a system that could be retrofitted to existing bandsaws for a total cost of $20,000.  As the technology has evolved, it has become apparent that a retrofit option has inherent issues (being a 'safety' device) and hence the system will initially only be available as part of a new bandsaw purchase.

Benefits of BladeStop

Improved operator safety is the only aim for this development, with the reduction (and possibly elimination) of band saw caused amputations and major cuts.

It is important to note that in stopping the blade, blade contact with the operator is made. The result is that the operator will receive a slight cut. This being the case, BladeStop is more correctly categorised as an injury minimisation rather than a safety device. MAR is offering an add-on enhancement to BladeStop that will even further reduce the chances of injuries.  This is called 'GloveCheck'.

While there are legislative, WorkCover and 'duty of care' reasons to implement BladeStop, there may also be some tangible cost savings to processors based on the following:

  • Reduced down time (when an accident occurs)
  • Cost of lost product
  • Replacement worker cost
  • Insurance savings
  • Reduced sick leave and related rehabilitation costs for injured workers

Intangible benefits include:

  • Social impact of serious injury or amputation
  • Improved safe work practices
  • Improved employee relations

Assuming one amputation every 3 years and 10 major cuts per year, estimated savings per plant may be around $282,000 per annum.

Current status & outcomes

MAR has completed extensive in plant trials, with these allowing further refinement of the BladeStop design to address reliability issues and a reduction of costs via further value engineering.

The current design is 'production ready' and MAR has started large scale commercial production, with numerous BladeStop equipped saws now being sold.

 

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This page was last updated on 24/07/2017

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