Getting a handle on the coronavirus

John Deere engineer uses everyday item to prevent spread.

Jason Sherron’s protective handles, made from standard PVC pipe, fit over assembly cart handles.

In factories around the world — from the U.S. to Brazil and from Germany to India — Deere production employees use carts to move materials along the assembly lines.

The assembly carts are efficient movers of materials. But because each cart is touched by more than 100 employees a day, the carts are also efficient movers of a potentially deadly virus.

The advent of the coronavirus (COVID-19) threat presented a challenge: either find a way to make handling the carts safe or find a new way to move materials along Deere’s assembly lines.

Jason Sherron has a knack for finding inventive ways to tackle problems. After receiving a note from his manager asking for ideas on how to achieve a “clean manufacturing environment,” Sherron, an assembly manufacturing engineer at Deere’s Turf facility in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, took up the challenge.

“Each assembly cart has two handles, and employees use those handles to push the carts along the assembly line,” said Sherron. Employees use the carts — picture an industrial version of a grocery shopping cart — to push assemblies down the assembly line, sub-assemblies to their mounting locations, and various parts to their final storage locations. For example, employees use assembly carts to transfer large welded parts from Deere’s paint shop to the final assembly area. “My goal,” Sherron added, “was to find a way to make the handles safe.”

PUSH protective handles fit over the handles of an Athena model assembly cart.

Exactly one prototype later, the result was PUSH, which stands for “Personal Use Safety Handles.” PUSH is as simple as it is brilliant.

Sherron found a piece of 1-1/2″-diameter PVC pipe at the factory, cut a 5-inch segment, and slipped it over an assembly cart handle. That was step 1.

Step 2 focused on finding a way to keep the PVC pipe from sliding too far down the assembly cart handle, exposing part of the cart handle to be touched by an employee. Sherron fit the 5-inch segment of PVC pipe with an end cap, which solved the problem.

And step 3 aimed to prevent the PVC pipe segment from being handled by more than one employee. Sherron’s solution? Make a set of PVC pipe handles for each employee.

“I knew they had to be easy to put on and easy to remove, as well as eliminate touch points,” said Sherron. Thus, the Personal Use Safety Handles were born.

Employees slide their own handles over the assembly cart handles to move the cart and then remove their handles once they’ve moved the cart to the next station. As we said, simple and brilliant.

Sherron completed a prototype April 7 and asked employees test the handles on the factory floor the next day. The handles worked perfectly.

PUSH protective handles fit over the handles of a TZT model assembly cart.

“I reviewed Jason’s innovation with other members of our Clean Manufacturing Team and our Factory Leadership, and they all loved it,” said Brien Cozart, manufacturing supervisor at Turf Care and Sherron’s manager. “We’ve been trying to get word out to other Deere factories and share Jason’s idea.”

Sherron’s handles are easy and inexpensive to produce, require virtually no instructions, and can be used on almost any manual assembly cart anywhere in the world, and discussions are underway to make Sherron’s innovation available outside Deere. The handles are another example of how Deere employees are lending their ingenuity to solve the vexing problems presented by the coronavirus pandemic.



Getting a handle on the coronavirus


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