In the 1920s, the "Zehnderli" was a popular mode of transport in Switzerland. This lightweight motorcycle was the first mass product to be released by the company that was founded by Jacob Zehnder as a mechanical workshop in 1895. In 1930, the founder's sons entered into a new area of business when they invented the steel radiator, which soon became a big seller for the company. Today, Zehnder is a full-range supplier of radiators, convectors, heating walls and other systems for a comfortable indoor climate.
With a global workforce of 3100 employees, the company supplies customers from the areas of sanitation, heating and ventilation on an international scale. Radiators are the most important product group, with deliveries going not only to Switzerland, but also to customers in Germany, France, Poland, the USA and China. The 300 employees at the company's Gränichen site in the Swiss canton of Aargau produce around 80,000 of these radiators every year.
Problems were previously encountered during order picking, when transferring the boxed and shrink-wrapped radiators from the packaging line onto pallets. Employees had to lift the products alone or in pairs and deposit them securely. For heavier radiators weighing up to 80 kilograms, Zehnder employed a crane and straps, but this process was very time-consuming and physically demanding. Employees for order picking were therefore assigned based on their strength and fitness. Yet with some staff shifting a daily load of more than two tons, the level of exertion was clearly to high.
In response, company management launched a project to identify ergonomic solutions that would make working life easier for its employees. Tests were conducted with mechanical grippers and other special solutions, but the results were never satisfactory. The process for picking up the load and the movements themselves were too slow and still very laborious. Moreover, the devices put to the test were very expensive. The breakthrough came at a trade fair in Zurich, when a Zehnder employee discovered the booth of Schmalz GmbH. Among other things, the vacuum specialist was exhibiting its vacuum lifters, which caught the eye of the radiator manufacturer. The first contact had been established.
Quickly ordered and promptly delivered
Guido Bertschy, a Schmalz system advisor, accepted the challenge and soon provided a potential solution. "We were delighted to be able to test the device for a whole day," reports Daniele Abbatiello, head of surface technology/packaging at Zehnder. The supplied vacuum tube lifter and crane were subjected to rigorous testing by several employees, including operations manager Felix Meyer. The results were impressive. "When Schmalz came to collect the tube lifter on the following day, my employees were far from happy. We therefore decided to place an order there and then, with the request to deliver as soon as possible. It all went flawlessly," states Abbatiello, who is also very happy with the price/performance ratio.
Schmalz supplied the vacuum tube lifter JumboErgo with a capacity of up to 110 kilograms along with a highly responsive aluminum crane system. Measuring 18 x 7.8 meters, the system is very flexible and covers a wide range of applications during order picking. The lifting devices are suitable for a large number of materials, ensure faster and safer load handling while also protecting employee health and the products themselves. They also impress with their ergonomic design. The twist grip on the JumboErgo is designed to operate like a motorcycle gas grip. This allows even large and heavy loads to be moved smoothly and with great precision. Users are able to select the length of the operator handle, meaning that they always maintain a safe distance from the load. Schmalz cranes are constructed from aluminum, which makes them extremely light. As a system supplier, the vacuum specialist adapts them to the specific capacities of the vacuum lifters. Both components feature a modular design, which ensures flexible integration into the individual working environment.
Radio remote control saves energy
Zehnder is more than satisfied with the performance of the Schmalz solution. "Thanks to the quick-change adapter, we can fit different grippers with utmost speed. These are designed for packages of different sizes. On the one hand, we use a double suction cup with movable cups mounted on a beam," describes Daniele Abbatiello. When transporting shrink-wrapped radiators, the second variant – a suction cup with a flexible sealing lip – offers key process benefits with its rapid and safe lifting. Zehnder has also opted for a silencer box with minimal noise generation. Abbatiello's glowing feedback also extends to the radio remote control, which enables rapid activation and deactivation of the device.
To begin with, the operators were a little taken aback by the heavy loads floating through the production hall without being secured by straps. But any initial skepticism has long since passed. "Our employees quickly learned to trust the system, and now nobody wants to lift anything by hand anymore," states Abbatiello. The order picking processes have improved significantly. The second pair of hands that was previously needed for carrying is now being put to much better use. Moreover, the Schmalz system also protects the health of the workforce. "We don't keep any statistics, but my colleagues have assured me that they now feel much better at the end of the day," explains Daniele Abbatiello.
Zehnder attributes great importance to the after sales service delivered by its suppliers, though there are no issues in this regard since the system has been working flawlessly for almost two years. "However, we still appreciate the availability of a reliable contact and prompt supply of spare parts. In this regard, or cooperation with Schmalz is as pleasant as it is uncomplicated," proclaims Abbatiello. From the very first discussions to the testing phase, configuration and final acceptance, the company enjoyed a close and trusting relationship with Mr Bertschy. Company management has also welcomed the Schmalz project as a great success. An additional system has already been procured for another department. Ergonomics during order picking and the workplace design have improved significantly. "We used to keep this area a little hidden from visitors, but now the Schmalz solution is an important point of call when showing customers our production facilities," stresses the departmental manager.