Morgan Lovell, national office design and fit out specialist, was awarded a Silver Safety Award for supporting Education and Research in the Construction Industry. Health and Safety Manager, Alex Wood, discusses...

Alex Wood, Health & Safety Manager

We tasked a group of local school students with a six month engineering challenge to provide a possible robotic method to assist with carrying large sheets of material (such as plasterboard, sheets of glass and doors) up and down staircases without the need to manually handle the materials.

The Engineering Project Challenge, which is supported by the school’s science and technology department, kicked off with a project tour and introduction to site conditions and equipment. After seeing a demonstration of how sheet materials can be carried by a person up access staircases with several fights and half landings, the students were charged with finding innovative improvements. 

The objective of the Engineering Project Challenge is to introduce young people to careers in construction and fit out. It helps students apply what they’ve learnt about engineering, science and technology in the classroom - in the real world. 

What made our submission a winning entry is that we have had the delightful opportunity to work with young school students and provide ideas and practical solutions for health and safety issues which manufacturers can realistically consider to resolve ongoing health issues to workers.

Our engagement of young engineers has led to innovative students looking at a construction hazard and associated risks, and it allowed the students to see and have a much clearer understanding of the construction industry. They are able to clearly see the hazard created by the size and weight of sheet material and the inability of the industry to reduce manual handling risk which workers face regularly.

The task of transporting large sheets on stairs is an ongoing issue which contributes to a large number of injuries and loss of productivity. In both the short term as people are unable to carry out the task, and also in the long term when ‘humpers’ have experienced permanent physical damage to knees, legs and their backs, preventing them from carrying out daily tasks and working.

Numerous solutions have been designed in the past to solve the same issue, but none of them have provided a safe and efficient form of transport. Consequently, the transportation of sheet materials is still done through manual handling.

Unlike other solutions, key requirements have been analysed by our students through extensive research to create a robotic device, which can make the process faster and easier by making use of the wide range of robotics components that exist.

The students met and even exceeded the initial targets set out for them at the beginning of the project. Transporting materials up and down stairs using robotics has been demonstrated by this innovation as well as designing a secure clamping mechanism with which sheet material is secured when moving on stairs, preventing damage from falling. In addition to just protecting the materials, other stairs users have been taken into account too; a safety system consisting of lights and sounds gives other stair uses ample warning of the device being used, preventing the chance of injury as a result of collision.

Faster transportation is possible with the use of robotics allowing for faster movement without fatigue, and movement of up to 10 sheets per staircase journey.

Collectively, the project innovation not only minimizes stress on a worker, but completely removes it, hence completely removing the operative from the risk of injury.  As trialled with our test model, it has been successful at achieving this core function making it feasible for scaling up and use in industry.

Furthermore (as a result of being robotics based) the device is also future proof as components can be changed and features can be added as the field of robotics develops, ensuring it remains functional and competitive. With the increasing acceptance of automation, the device could also be used to completely automate the transportation process with a higher level of programming and more extensive use of sensors to provide greater input regarding the surrounding location

In summary, the innovative nature of the device has allowed the students to meet and exceed all goals set out to them, making both ourselves and them confident that the robotic device meets the needs of the construction industry, both now and in the future. The students have learned that despite the initial appeal of applying engineering solutions to the issues that they have encountered throughout this science, technology, engineering, and mathematics project that things are never as straightforward as they appear.

For us, the initiative helps our project team tackle challenges in new ways, give something back to the community and engage with local schools – a shining example of our corporate values.

We also hope that the students who’ve enjoyed the Engineering Project Challenge will consider our Foundation Programme. Aimed at new joiners with little to no industry or management experience, Overbury’s graduate and entry-level initiative focuses on helping the next generation find a career path and enjoy a long and successful career in construction. 

Award-winning students with Morgan Lovell's Director, Chris Booth