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Designing an Industrial Workbench for Adjustability

Oct 21, 2020 | Ergonomics, Productivity, Custom Solutions

There are three different principles to designing a space – designing for average, for extreme, and for adjustability. What would be the best strategy when it comes to an industrial workbench?

Design for Average

This approach bases the design on the average anthropometric data of the users. It comes up with a one-size-fits-all solution. A typical example is public transportation in which the seats are identical with the same distance between rows of them. Human beings are unique. The “average” person doesn’t exist. It would be difficult to find people who are average in more than a few of the body dimensions. In addition, the proportion of body dimensions could vary too. Although designing for average seems like accommodating 50% of users, it is not optimal for anyone. It might be okay to sit in an uncomfortable seat on a plane for a few hours because you only fly occasionally. However, in industrial environments, a fixed workstation could cause repetitive stress injuries for the operator who works on it day in and day out.  

Design for Extreme

It is not practical to design for all users. In some situations, design for extreme individuals is necessary to accommodate the 5th percentile or 95th percentile users. For instance, the length of beds in some hotels is long enough, even for NBA athletes. Is it ideal? Not always. For example, if the height of a packing table is set for a small 5th percentile woman so that she can reach everything, it won’t be optimal for most of the other operators. Constant bending could lead to neck and back problems over time.  

Design for Adjustability

It is the most inclusive design strategy that we advocate for at BOSTONtec. It accommodates 5th to 95th percentile users or 90% of employees. It recognizes the uniqueness of each person and strives to meet their individual needs with flexible configurations. One example from daily life is the driver’s seat in a car. The height, position, tilt angle, back support, head support are adjustable to fit as many users as possible. 
workforce diversity

How to Design an Industrial Workbench for Adjustability

For industrial workbenches, design for adjustability applies basic ergonomic principles to ensure that the workstation fits the worker, not the worker to the workstation. It influences how the workers interact with the workbench and ultimately determines their overall efficiency, accuracy, comfort, and well-being. It takes into consideration the following when planning a workstation:

  • Size and shape of the operator
  • Type of task being performed and frequency
  • Space needed
  • Workflow
  • Items needed to complete the task such as tools, equipment, components, products, reference materials etc.
  • Importance of the items – how and where to place them relative to the operator

After the planning process, the items on the workstation will be assigned to appropriate ergonomic zones based on their priorities. The higher the priority, the closer the item should be placed to the operator. The four ergonomic zones can fit most operators by using a height adjustable work surface and flexible accessories.

Ergonomic zones

Design for Adjustability in Action

Below is an example of a custom material handling workbench designed for adjustability. The height of workstation can be adjusted with the touch of a button making it suitable for multiple operators and shifts. Accessories mounted on the uprights are also designed with adjustability in mind. They can be set up to fit individual needs and are out of the way when not in use. They allow each worker to access and handle the materials easily, have the optimal lighting to perform task, maintain neutral positions, and minimize non-value added movements.
custom assembly workbench with feature calloutsIncorporating adjustability in this design improves productivity significantly. It also helps prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) caused by lifting, bending, reaching, pushing, working in awkward body postures, and performing repetitive tasks. WMSDs are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time. They cost employers $20 billion a year according to OSHA estimates.

Designing for adjustability benefits both employees and bottom line. It is a must have for your business. Thinking of implementing it in your own applications? Our experts in ergonomic workstations are here to help!

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