Recycler adapts loader for amputee employee

09 July 2024

German building materials recycler D&H Baustoff Verwerungs (D&H) has invested in a customised Volvo wheeled loader to enable a member of its team to return to a role he loved, after a fall from height resulted in him undergoing a partial limb amputation.

Left to right: Waldemar Donner, Elektro-Konstruktion Götting KG, Stefan Müller, Kai-Uwe Specht, Swecon Product Specialist and Mathias Bank, Head of Automation Construction and Special Vehicles, Götting KG. Left to right: Waldemar Donner, Elektro-Konstruktion Götting KG, Stefan Müller, Kai-Uwe Specht, Swecon Product Specialist and Mathias Bank, Head of Automation Construction and Special Vehicles, Götting KG. (PHOTO: Volvo)

In 2010, wheeled loader operator Stefan Müller was left with a seriously damaged ankle after falling from a ladder.

Unexpected complications then resulted in 17 surgical procedures and an almost four-year enforced break from work, culminating in a lower leg amputation. 

While Stefan joined D+H in 2021 - some ten years after the accident that left him disabled, his job role with the construction and demolition waste recycler was not as a machine operator. 

“Stefan had previous experience operating a wheel loader at a gravel works and was keen to return to the profession,” said Volvo CE.

“D&H was committed to helping him return to work and put his considerable skills and experience back to good use.”

However, “operating the pedals on the company’s Volvo L120H wheel loader was clearly going to be a challenge though and a solution needed to be found.”

The D&H team decided to adapted their machine so that it either Stefan or another member of the team could use it, and so turned to Volvo CE dealer, Mario Janßen, to devise a hand – rather than foot – throttle. 

The new hand throttle that enables Stefan to operate the wheeled loader. The new hand throttle that enables Stefan to operate the wheeled loader. (PHOTO: Volvo)

Volvo said: “After some research it became apparent that finding a solution to switch from a foot to hand throttle was not going to be straightforward and would be beyond the capabilities of a normal workshop.”

“The team was eager to help though and so they reached out to Swecon’s product specialist for wheel loaders, dumpers and graders, Kai-Uwe Specht, for assistance.”

According to the OEM, Kai-Uwe embraced the challenge and set to work finding a suitable company in his substantial network that could help.

Automation specialist, Götting, was selected for the job, having both the necessary expertise for such a tricky customised task and for being familiar with Volvo CE machines.

The project to adapt the L120H for Stefan to use was a joint endeavour between Swecon, Götting and D+H, with the support of Thomas Verhuven, foreman at D+H, and Stefan himself.

Together the team developed a prototype, three-stage hand throttle with a monitor that displays whether the wheeled loader is in foot or hand throttle mode.

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“The accelerator pedal is still present, meaning the machine can be used by other operators, but they can easily and seamlessly switch between hand and foot throttle,” said Volvo.

The prototype was tested extensively at a gravel plant near Hanover, and the resulting final product was presented as a product for the first time at Steinexpo in 2023.

Stefan Weber, Managing Director at D&H, said: “I was genuinely surprised by the scope of the project and the number of parties involved.

The monitor shows if the L120H is in hand or foot throttle in the cab of the Volvo L120H wheeled loader The monitor shows if the L120H is in hand or foot throttle drive. (PHOTO: Volvo)

“I didn’t initially imagine it would be so complex. But I’m really impressed with the results achieved within just eight months. And we’re very happy that we have been able to help Stefan get back behind the wheel of a wheeled loader.”

According to Volvo, 75% of the customisation costs (the total amount of which was undisclosed) were covered by the employers’ liability insurance association, with D&H providing the rest.  

The adapted Volvo L120H wheeled loader is now in daily use at D&H’s base in Kamp-Lintfort in North Rhine-Westphalia, and D&H is reportedly also considering installing the system on their larger machines.

Commenting on what it’s like to use the new throttle control system, Thomas Verhuven, foreman at D+H, said: “Once you get used to it, you almost don’t want to operate your wheeled loader any other way.”

Volvo L120H adapted to allow disabled operator to drive While the loader has been adapted to allow a Stefan to drive it, it still retains the foot throttle pedal so that an operator can choose which mode they prefer. (PHOTO: Volvo)
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