CT scanners can produce incredible images that can help spot cancer, infections and other diseases inside the body in a matter of minutes. The powerful technology is housed in a solid body with single parts that can weigh between 70 -120 kilograms (154-265 pounds) each. With lifting heavy items topping the leading cause of workplace injury, installing and maintaining the massive machines requires great care.
Melbourne, Australia-based GE Healthcare field service engineer Andy Schmidt knows the importance of safety in handling this sort of equipment. Andy has been working at GE for 33 years, interacting daily with CT scanners in hospitals and clinics across Australia. Critical scanner parts are often delivered in a large crate without wheels or even handles, then need to be moved from a loading dock. Once inside the crates may need to be moved to an adjacent room or from one end to another, often within the tight confines of an imaging suite.
A few years ago, Andy was attempting to change an X-ray tube at a remote site in Warrnambool, a city on the coast of Victoria, and found it impossible to do so without causing damage to the equipment, customer site or worse yet, injury.“I thought this is unacceptable. There needs to be a resolution,” he says.
Andy sought help from local GE safety leader Nicola Craig, who tapped into her global GE Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) network to see if a solution already existed. After her search yielded no results, she pointed Andy to off-the-shelf gadgets, but they were either outsized or failed under the weight of the equipment.
Finally Nicola suggested to Andy he might design a fit for purpose device. To her surprise, he took on the challenge. “He’s truly amazing,” says Nicola. “I really didn’t think it would go any further once we kept hitting dead ends.”
On weekends Andy and a friend worked to create a small tool that could move heavy parts and packaging easily and eliminated the need for lifting or dragging. After a couple of iterations, they readied a prototype and gave it to a field engineer for testing. It was a success.
Andy dubbed the tool “Crate Mate”, which can be assembled and attached with standard field engineer tools and is adaptable to different sized crates and pallets. A container that used to require three or four people to lift can now be moved safely by one person using the tool.
Andy sees great potential for the tool. By his estimation, field engineers companywide are working with equipment under similar conditions approximately 1,000 times per year. He’s had 10 more tools produced and is in the process of distributing to colleagues around Australia and New Zealand, with other GE manufacturing and distribution teams around the world showing keen interest as well.
“When we interact with objects, there are impacts to well-being and safety,” says EHS manager Nicola. “Well-designed ergonomics are necessary to prevent injury and illness and put you in a good place where you can work safely and go home in one piece.”