Workplace ergonomics are essential to every worker, especially those that use hand tools or other equipment. It concerns everything, from posture to lifting, all considering the worker's limitations. Tool balancers minimize operator effort by carrying the tools when in use and not.
Different tools require unique tool balancers. You can get general-purpose ones or opt for specific ones for delicate operations. Either way, the selection is crucial to save the operator’s arm and reduce worker fatigue.
Tools may be lightweight when first carried but get heavier with repetitive motion. We'll go over how to choose the best tool balancer for improved workflow and a lower risk of musculoskeletal disorders. First, let’s briefly look at the types of tool balancers.
Types of Tool Balancers
Let’s consider a simple torque wrench on an assembly line. Every time a new product rolls in, the operator picks it up and sets it up, often in the same position. Now, imagine doing that for dozens of products in a day.
Such repetitive tasks will take a toll on the operator’s arm a few months or years later. With tool balancers, the story is different. You can comfortably do the job even with heavy duty tools without feeling operator fatigue.
The right tool balancer eliminates the hassles of tool positioning by giving you a pre-set position. Before buying tool balancers for your workplace, you must know the types available and how they fit in. You don’t want to buy something meant for pneumatic tools when all you needed was a retractor for your EV station.
So, here are the types of tool balancers:
These are the most basic and common ones in workplaces. They are affordable and usually used for lightweight tools. Nevertheless, you can get one that supports a higher load capacity of up to 30 lb.
Spring balancers apply continuous pressure on the instrument as you draw it down. Hence, you must counter the pressure to control the instrument.
Once you release the tool, the spring balancer will retract it. Some have ratchet lock mechanism for improved functionality.
Air hose tool balancers
Air hose tool balancers do away with the traditional cables found in spring balancers for air hoses. These unique hoses also send air to the pneumatic instrument and support the tool's weight.
Air tool balancers share a similar design to spring retractors.
Zero gravity balancers
If you don’t want the upward tension from tool retractors or air tool balancers, zero gravity tool balancers are for you. They offer true zero gravity and complete control via smooth cable travel.
These balancers are ideal for heavy tools, although they are seldom the most economical choice. Nonetheless, spending the extra money provides more comfortable operation and better than retractors for certain applications. You can implement tension adjustments to carry different equipment.
We have had a field day with quality springs and tensions. Electric tool balancers replace springs with electric drives.
A major example is the Schmalz Binar Neo 30 electric tool balancer.
How to Pick the Right Tool Balancer
Accidents are bound to happen if you don’t use the right tool balancer for the job. An example would be loading a 60lb equipment on a balancer designed to carry at most 50 lb. The spring tension would be unable to hold the weight, causing potential damage to the cable or the tapered drum
We have identified a few things to consider when picking the right tool balancer. It is not about going for the most common type, which could be the wrong tool for the job. Instead, it is about finding the ideal balancer for the specific equipment and weight of the load.
The facility should be your foremost consideration when selecting tool balancers. You must consider everything, from the environment to the type of work. What is the average posture for your operators?
An instance of facility consideration will be using explosion-resistant tool balancers if you deal with combustible gasses. Then, you have a posture that could be primarily standing. The right tool balancer must have enough cable travel to reach the work area from the hanger.
When used right, tool balancers reduce the risk of injury and improve operators' productivity. You want the full cable travel and weight capacity to be enough for them. Assess the critical points and operations in your facility.
The safety features of these devices can vary greatly depending on their size and type. Simple, lightweight retractors often feature only basic safety suspension, while larger retractors and zero gravity balancers boast a range of safety features designed to prevent accidents and protect workers. These safety features can include a centrifugal safety device to prevent load dropping, a one-way brake system to slow down retraction, and a cable snap-back prevention device to prevent sudden snap-back retraction of the wire rope. Additionally, some models may include a manual locking mechanism to lock the load at any height. The range of safety features available will depend on the brand and type of retractor or balancer, but it's always important to prioritize safety when working with suspended tools and equipment.
Conical Cable Drum
A conical cable drum is ideal if you want less or no retraction force throughout the full cable travel. It applies to zero-gravity tool balancers and the like.
Smooth movement should be your priority, hence the need for a conical or tapered drum. Take the time to see how smoothly the tool balancer functions.
Weight of your Tool
The use of simple swivel hooks makes interchanging tools easier and quicker. Sometimes, we could unknowingly add a device heavier than the balancer's load rating.
Observing the weight requirements is something your operators must be mindful of. Every support cable and spring can only take so much.
Never overload a tool balancer beyond its maximum weight capacity. Weigh each instrument if you have to before snapping on the hook. Those few minutes of safety checks can eliminate operator injury from accidental equipment drops.
Ensuring that your tool's weight falls within the capacity range of the tool balancer will enable the balancer to perform effectively and reduce the physical strain on the operator
The spatial arrangement of your workplace is another essential consideration. How much clearance do you have from the hanger to your work surface? The answer will determine how much cable length you need from the tool balancer.
Even specialty balancers need adequate space to function effectively. Avoid any cramped or tight conditions when you opt for a tool balancer. They must be free of any obstructions that could impede cable travel.
You may consider installing a rail track system for your tool balancer, which will ensure that the tool remains in the most suitable position for the job at hand.
Type of Tool
This consideration is the most visual of them all. Workplaces have different tools, from nail guns, pneumatic equipment, and welding guns to pump nozzles, torque wrenches, etc. They play an essential role in determining which tool balancer to use.
For example, you cannot use an air tool balancer for a torque wrench. The combination will not work as the balancer is designed with an air hose, not just a steel cable.
This consideration is non-negotiable. You can get away with using simple spring retractors for simple tools. However, you must select the specific device when it involves a unique operation.
The more suited the balancer is to the tool, the more productive an operator will be.
We mentioned posture earlier in this brief piece. The aim is to work with as little muscular strain as possible. Tool balancers free up the muscles by carrying the equipment.
Deliberate ergonomics provide workplace accommodations that reduce the risk of injuries. Hence, you must pick tools that enhance your posture while working.
This list would be incomplete without considering the cost implications. Often, we find ourselves picking adequate but less-than-ideal tool balancers because of cost.
The higher-rated and better-operating balancers are more expensive. For example, zero gravity balancers often cost more than simple spring retractors.
We understand the need to save costs even if you want your operators' safety. However, never compromise on the price if getting a cheaper one presents more risk for workplace accidents.
Reducing Injuries and Improving Performance
Experts know better than to pick a random tool balancer off the shelf. Everything must be suited for the job, from the cable to the load rating and design. Then, you must consider the intended equipment to be used.
The operator’s productivity is the primary reason for selecting a tool balancer. Even so, using one also reduces the risk of injuries.
Balancers hold the tool during operations. They are essential for carrying weights and performing tasks that involve repetitive motions. They ensure your arms and muscles are free and less strained during the workflow.
Selecting the right tool balancer can be challenging, considering the overwhelming number available. However, you will be one step ahead with just a few considerations.
Tool weight and application are the primary consideration for picking a balancer. It determines whether you need simple spring balancers or a more precise zero-gravity balancer. Nevertheless, you can fine-tune your choice by considering the facility, safety, space, and cost.