A group of engineers from Digi-Key Electronics, a global electronic components distributor based in northern Minnesota, have invented new tech to disinfect the thousands of totes that carry product through their the company’s one million-square-foot distribution center every day, transporting products through the picking, shipping and receiving departments.
Digi-Key provides top technology, med tech, automotive and up-and-coming companies around the world with access to more than 10.2 million electronic components, with over 2.2 million in stock and available for immediate shipment.
Employees at the Digi-Key product distribution center who are practicing strict social distancing and disinfecting policies interact with the totes multiple times per day, so the challenge of disinfecting the totes efficiently and effectively is no small task. The tunnel that uses UV light to kill 99.99 percent of the organisms on the totes, including coronavirus -- drastically reducing contact for Digi-Key employees.
“One of the biggest challenges we faced in creating the UV tunnel was the fact that a design did not exist – we developed the design from scratch, doing all the math and science ourselves in about three days – no small feat,” Michael McGrath, research and design engineering technician for Digi-Key tells IndustryWeek. “The UV dose calculation presented a challenge – the totes are being moved on conveyers and are only subjected to the light for a relatively short time (seconds to minutes).”
According to McGrath, the other challenge centered on the sheer number of totes that needed to be sanitized – over 8,000 of them – and the difficulty of ensuring all the tote’s surfaces were under the UV light for the proper amount of time to sufficiently kill all the micro-organisms. “To this point, we put the tunnel on a curve, and also considered access for installation and service while choosing a location for the tunnel,” he says. “The model we ended up developing is about 2.5 feet tall, 2 feet wide and 15 feet long. We also installed a sensor and timer to help prolong the lifespan of the UV lightbulbs – turning them on and off as needed.”
Employees have responded positively to this new technology designed to keep them safe. “Most were grateful and impressed by the fact that we designed, built and deployed it so rapidly,” says McGrath. “The tunnel is just one of many ways Digi-Key is working to keep the warehouse clean and high-touch items frequently sanitized, in addition to Take 5 to Sanitize work station cleaning breaks every two hours, stringent disinfecting of work areas nightly, strict social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), temperature checks before heading to work and more.”
Furthermore, Digi-Key isn’t keeping this potentially life-saving invention to themselves. Digi-Key president Dave Doherty is actively working with other distributors on the Electronic Components Industry Association (ECIA) distribution council to share ideas and best practices for helping to protect the safety of employees and customers, including the ultraviolet sanitization tunnel invention.