Vertical Baler Safety
We are frequently asked by business owners if balers are safe to own and operate. Like any other industrial machine, vertical balers can be used safely if owners and operators take the time to educate themselves about proper operation and maintenance. Operator injuries rarely occur, and when they do they are almost always determined to have been preventable.
At Cram-A-Lot, we place a very high priority on product safety. Product safety must be considered during the design and development of the product, during the manufacture of the product, and during the installation and use of the product. We are proud of the safety features that have been integrated into the design of our VB Series vertical baler, making it one of the safest vertical balers on the market today. There are a few common design approaches used in our industry when it comes to safe machine operation. In this article, I hope to illustrate the differences between the 'common' design approach and the revolutionary approach that we have employed here at Cram-A-Lot. The 'common' vertical baler design incorporates chains, sprockets and weights to lift the loading gate, it uses universal safety interlocks for machine guarding, and traditional machine design concepts are used in designing the baler structure. Our VB Series balers, on the other hand, use an innovative approach to these design areas to effectively improve the overall safety of the machine.
Gas Springs vs Chains & Counterweights
Our loading gate design eliminates the use of chains, sprockets, and counterweights in favor a gas spring lift-up design. The gas springs automatically raise the gate at the end of the cycle for convenience, but they also control the descent of the gate while being pulled down. This design encourages two hand operation and maintains a controlled descent of the loading gate. If two hands are used to pull down the loading gate, this naturally prevents the gate from being slammed on the operator's fingers and hands.
Loading Gate Interlocks
The typical vertical baler uses a system of limit switches or photoeyes to interlock the loading gate. Interlocks are required by ANSI Z245 safety standards to ensure that the baler operation will stop immediately if the gate is lifted. Surprisingly, many operators look for ways to bypass these important safety interlocks. In their mind, bypassing the safety interlocks makes the baling operation more efficient, but in fact they are compromising their own safety in the process. The limit switches and photoeyes that are commonly used by our competitors are often easily bypassed by the operator. The Cram-A-Lot VB Series baler uses a proprietary electromagnetic door lock that keeps the loading gate locked during operation. Other designs use the baler platen to raise the loading gate on the return stroke, making the chamber area accessible while the baler is still in operation. Our design does not release the loading gate until the cycle is complete, which effectively guards the operator from the moving platen.
Operator safety must also be taken into consideration when designing the baler structure. Typical balers utilize structural channel to stiffen the sides and lower bale eject door. This design essentially creates a ladder that allows the operator to climb onto the side or front of the baler for any number of reasons. Our VB Series baler design utilizes a formed channel with 45 degree top that discourages the use of these stiffeners as a ladder. Many competitive products also utilize structural channel on the back of the baler to provide slots for tying the finished bale. This channel creates several wide gaps in the back, exposing a significant pinch point between a hand and the baler platen. On our opinion, this is not an acceptable approach to machine guarding, so we reduced this gap by using formed and tapered channels, which eliminates the hand pinch point. This particular safety concern is not addressed by the ANSI Z245 safety standards, but we have chosen to exceed the standards in this area in pursuit of the safest product possible.
If you would like to learn more about vertical baler safety, we recommend the following resources:
- ANSI Z 245.5 - Baling Equipment: Safety Standards for Installation, Maintenance, & Operation
- Public Law 104-174 - Authority for 16- and 17-Year-Olds to Load Paper Balers (but NOT Operate or Unload)
- OSHA 29 CFR 1910.147 - Control of Hazardous Energy (Lock Out / Tag Out)