Covid-19 social distancing solutions

Published:  02 November, 2020

Turck Banner’s systems division has a reputation for bringing together a diverse array of products to form cohesive systems solving the requirements of major industrial companies. However it has not manufactured its own product in the UK until July of this year, when it started manufacturing systems to support social distancing and occupancy for a wide range of uses from factories and plants, to commercial premises and shops. PWE reports.

Early in the spring Covid-19 lockdown Turck Banner saw an opportunity to support locations and premises that need to control the flow of people entering their premises. Ian Manning, marketing manager for the company said people were often seen queuing outside shops for example unsure whether it was safe to enter or not, and often avoiding shops with a long queue altogether, choosing an alternative with a shorter wait time. He explained that Turck Banner’s systems team were challenged to come up with a solution using the four following criteria; it needed to be simple to use, easy to fit, low cost and adaptable to changing government rules.

Two solutions emerged. The first was a simple combination of a power plug, an inline changeover switch and a red-green tower light. The light could be mounted in the shop door or window with the switch placed near the till. The shopkeeper could then turn the light red or green, like a traffic light, to allow customers into the shop or request that they wait. This could be sold for just £90

The second solution replaced the mechanical switch with a remote control, allowing the relevant person in charge to turn the light red or green. This had a higher price at £210 but reduced the installation requirements.

Turck Banner trialled both systems at a variety of outlets and found the greatest challenge to the systems was the general public. People were not used to any sort of automation controlling entrances, they were too busy trying to peer inside, to see if it was safe to enter, to notice the light and signage. As the light needed to be more prominent, mounting it outside the shop could be a solution, however this would require permanent installation work. Temporarily running cables around some shops was also challenging.

Using feedback from the trials, the systems division developed a standalone cordless control station. It used the remote control, which was the most popular of the original designs. The tower light was replaced by a daylight visible red / green traffic light mounted on a 1.5m post and a base containing a rechargeable battery and the remote controller. The station is weatherproof and is positioned at the entrance. The traffic light gives a clear instruction to enter or wait, and a repeater indicator is located on top of the post to ensure that the shopkeeper can see if the traffic light colour is red or green from 360 degrees. At the close of business the station is taken inside the shop and placed on charge for the next day, although the battery will last for more than two days in operation. This solution still costs just under £500 and requires no installation.

Trials of the new system proved to be much more successful. When the station was placed prominently outside the entrance to a premises or commercial outlet, people could enter or wait at the command of the person in charge of the controller. Queues could also be kept to a minimum as there was control of the number of customers in the premises.

The systems division then turned its attention to its more usual, industrial, customers to see how this may be of benefit to them and whether the station could be adapted for their needs. Two opportunities to assist were identified: Customers required monitoring of enclosed spaces to ensure safe occupancy and to maintain social distancing on stairways.

Many enclosed spaces which now have reduced occupancy need external control. The occupancy version of the control station has sensors mounted to the post which detect the presence and direction of a person entering or exiting the room. Rotary dials on the base allow the maximum occupancy to be set to between 1 and 99. The indicator lights turn red when the maximum occupancy has been reached, returning to green when the occupancy drops below the maximum.

The second requirement of maintaining social distancing on stairs needed another solution. Most stairways have become one-way to avoid people crossing, but for a number of customers, people were still bunching and not allowing enough space before using the stairs.

The Stair version of the control station is fitted with a single sensor which detects anyone passing as they start upon the stairs, at which time the indicator light turns red for a set period of time before returning to green. The default setting is 4 seconds which produces an average space of two metres between people but is adjustable to between one and 15 seconds.

Other solutions have been developed for different applications such as a system for maintaining a clean work area which instructs users to clean the work area on a pre-set schedule and records the user acknowledgment of when this has been completed.

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