Floor Mats: Ensuring Success for Ceramic Manufacturers from the Ground Up
New matting systems have been introduced over the past 10-20 years to help make workers more productive, healthy and safe.
The manufacturing world is changing in all U.S. industries. This applies to ceramics as well, which have been manufactured for thousands of years. According to John Sullivan, director of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing at Purdue University, a very frank example of this phenomenon is the equipment used in today’s factories and manufacturing centers. No longer are machines being used that are as old—or older—than the employees that operate them, according to Sullivan.
In addition, Sullivan says that the type of workers being hired in manufacturing is changing. The low-skilled positions found in some manufacturing sites are fast disappearing. Today’s manufacturing employer is looking for skilled workers who are able to use and operate very sophisticated computers and electronics.
Ultimately, what is happening in the U.S. and in many other parts of the world is that manufacturing centers are being retooled and redesigned so that they operate more efficiently, helping to lower costs and improve worker productivity and safety, as well as the overall quality of the items produced. “It’s not your father’s factory floor anymore” is an expression often heard when referring to these more sophisticated manufacturing locations.
This adage can also be applied to the actual factory floor itself—in the types of mats installed on industrial and manufacturing floors. The past 10-20 years has seen a revolution in mat technology, with new matting systems introduced to help make workers more productive, healthy and safe.
First, let’s get a handle on matting lingo. As with any industry, the floor mat industry has developed its own terms to describe the different types of mats it markets. While there is no written agreement among the different manufacturers, it appears that most have adopted the same or similar terms so that manufacturers looking to select mats have a better understanding of how the mat is used and can compare apples with apples when making a mat selection.
The first term ceramic manufacturers need to know is what is referred to as a high-performance mat. While this type of mat will most likely be installed at entrances to the office and factory and not specifically on the factory floor, these mats are crucial in keeping the facility cleaner and healthier. In addition, a high-performance mat can be very helpful in reducing airborne dust, which is a problem in most ceramic facilities.
While there may be different definitions, a high-performance mat is generally one that is purchased from a dealer or directly from a manufacturer (vs. rented from a linen or similar type of service). These mats are termed high-performance for two reasons. First, they are designed to last longer, ultimately providing cost savings in the long term. Whereas a rental mat may have a warranty of only three to six months, a purchased high-performance mat may have a warranty that extends for one to several years. These mats are simply better made using higher-quality materials.
Second, high-performance mats are also designed to be more effective. For instance, some high-performance mats have two levels and are referred to as bi-level mats. The bi-level design helps moisture, soil, dust and grit sink below the surface of the mat. As someone walks over the mat, moisture and soil on their shoes fall below the surface of the mat and thus cannot reattach to a subsequent walker’s shoe bottoms and be carried to the factory floor.
While high-performance mats are normally placed at building entries, other mats are most likely to be found on the factory floor. Chemical-resistant mats are designed to be resistant to specific chemicals that might be spilled on the mat. This can be a critical consideration in a manufacturing location where chemicals such as acids, gasoline, hydraulic fluid, and so on may be in use. Some mat manufacturers provide chemical-resistance charts indicating to which chemicals each of their mats are resistant.
Anti-fatigue mats are designed to reduce the musculoskeletal pain and fatigue often experienced by workers such as those in ceramic manufacturing plants who stand for long periods on an industrial floor. These mats provide a gentle but definite “bounce,” helping increase blood flow to the lower limbs, which can reduce fatigue and pain. More advanced anti-fatigue mats may be made with a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) foam material called Zedlan™, which has fine-tuned this bounce, further helping to reduce standing worker fatigue. Some anti-fatigue mats are designed only for dry surfaces, while others are intended for wet areas where liquids are being used.
Flow-through mats are designed specifically for wet areas and are another type of mat suggested for ceramic manufacturing facilities. Often found in commercial kitchens and in manufacturing locations where liquids are used, these mats ensure that spills and moisture drip below the standing surface. This helps promote safety and keeps shoe bottoms dry, helping to prevent slip-and-fall accidents.
As mentioned previously, more sophisticated electronics are being used in today’s manufacturing locations. For example, workers often have a computer located right at their workstation. This increases the chance of static electricity potentially damaging the computer/electronics; the “shock” it causes can possibly cause an accident as well. Some anti-static mats simply have a special backing to help prevent electrical surges. Others are far more sophisticated, with a grounding cord that can be connected to an electrical outlet to help prevent static electricity.
Similar to anti-static mats, switchboard mats take worker protection to a much higher level. These non-conductive mats are designed to help insulate workers and protect them from high-voltage shocks that could be very harmful, even deadly.
A disinfectant mat essentially functions as a shoe bath as workers step onto it. These mats typically have 2-in. walls all the way around them that hold a disinfectant. Specially designed to prevent splashes, they can withstand very heavy foot traffic and are most commonly installed in food processing facilities, healthcare environments, and sterile environments found in some industrial locations.
Mats, Ceramics and Dust
The mats discussed here can be used in all kinds of industrial and factory locations, including those used for manufacturing ceramics. However, dust is a big concern in the ceramic industry as it has proven to be a serious health risk for workers. Ceramic manufacturers should therefore consider installing high-performance matting in their entries and key walkways.
When used in entries, high-performance mats are designed to capture and hold as much as 70% of the soils and moisture collected on shoe bottoms. Used inside the building, they can also help prevent dust being transported from one location of a ceramic facility to another.
In the professional cleaning industry, the function these mats perform is often referred to as “source control.” The mat is helping to control the amount of dust and contaminants that are spread from one area of a facility to another. High-performance mats, along with all the other mats discussed here, can play a key role in keeping ceramic manufacturing facilities more productive, clean and healthy.
For additional information, visit www.crownmats.com.