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How to Integrate Ergonomics in Manufacturing with Lean Processes?

Jan 3, 2022 | All Articles, Ergonomics, Productivity

Lean manufacturing focuses on eliminating waste in production processes. Its integration with ergonomics in manufacturing improves employee performance and satisfaction.

Thoughtful and high-quality workplace systems and workstations reduce the amount of effort needed in a manufacturing process and will result in a more successful operation.

Integrating ergonomics and lean thinking in the production process is one of the best ways for business owners to improve performance.

So, if you’re looking to start using lean thinking and ergonomics in your firm, you’ve come to the right place.

This article will discuss how ergonomics and lean design are used in the manufacturing industry and how lean ergonomics can transform your business.

What is ergonomics in manufacturing?

Ergonomics is a set of scientific principles used to design and arrange (work) environments that humans can interact with most efficiently and safely.

In the manufacturing industry, ergonomics involves setting up a workstation and its equipment to fit the worker.

According to the ILO (International Labor Organization), 2.3 million men and women globally encounter work-related accidents or diseases every year, with over 6000 deaths recorded daily.

Activities such as lifting heavy loads, pulling large equipment, etc., are common causes of injuries that affect the human body movement or musculoskeletal system.

As a result of these musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), employers now have to spend more money on compensation and healthcare.

While there is never a perfect work environment, an ergonomic workspace guarantees that work-related injuries are avoidable.

Ergonomic application in the manufacturing environment looks into the little details that can cause stress and discomfort to employees.

It may include the quality of light in the workstation, the height of an employee’s desk, the visibility of directional markers, the shape of an employee’s chair, etc.

For example, the direction of light towards a work surface can affect productivity. This is why there are different types of lighting for each operation.

Minimizing excessive motions and awkward working postures lowers ergonomic-related ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, and arthritis.

Ultimately, ergonomics in the manufacturing industry is crucial for employee safety and overall financial and operational success.

What is lean manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is a production technique that simplifies processes, reduces waste, and increases efficiency.

How does lean manufacturing work?

Lean manufacturing focuses on enhancing processes and creating value for customers.

For example, suppose a process or activity demands time, money, expertise, or other resources but does not add value for the customer. In that case, it is an example of waste.

These might include surplus inventory, repetitive processes, and procedures.

Lean manufacturing removes these inefficiencies.

As a result, manufacturers would enjoy a simplified operation, decrease production costs, and eventually save the client for a specific product or service via the supply chain.

So, the overall goal of lean manufacturing is to make the work simple.

Why is lean manufacturing so important?

Lean manufacturing smoothens the workflow, minimizes waste, and ensures worker safety.

The Toyota Production System is a typical example of how lean thinking can improve processes.

Toyota developed an efficient lean design that enabled it to transit from making a few cars daily to one of the world’s largest automotive companies.

Although the motivation to adopt lean manufacturing may differ from one company to the next, lean manufacturing has four main advantages.

  • It saves time

Lean manufacturing makes things quicker while utilizing fewer resources. This can be less manufacturing space, fewer workers’ movements, and fewer assembly stages.

  • It increases product quality

It allows manufacturers to dedicate more time to quality assurance and innovative thinking and improve customer experience.

  • It saves cost

It helps to manage materials through improved procedures, thereby saving cost.

  • Sustainability

Lean manufacturing is a sustainable approach to production. Companies that adopt lean thinking are positioned to prosper in the future.

  • Employee satisfaction

Morale suffers when employees’ daily routines are bloated or overburdened with needless tasks. Instead, a workstation that adopts lean manufacturing can unclog employees’ routines and increase overall job satisfaction.

What is lean ergonomics?

Lean ergonomics combines the principles of lean thinking and ergonomics to increase job performance while reducing waste and the risk of employee injuries.

Ergonomics takes a human approach to a manufacturing process. The engineering and equipment are designed to fit the task and the operator, not the other way around.

It can help reduce repetitive stress injuries and difficulties caused by uncomfortable posture.

In ergonomics, using lean thinking implies considering every human contact with a process and assessing the waste and associated loss in both quality and safety at the same time.

As a result, lean ergonomics ultimately reduces quantifiable risk and makes the work environment more efficient, productive, and safe.

How does lean ergonomics work?

Lean thinking reduces in the workstation, while ergonomics minimizes conditions that cause injuries to the workers.

While some companies apply each one as a standalone solution to improving efficiency at work, studies have shown that lean manufacturing alone may not be sustainable over time.

Lean manufacturing significantly reduces the unnecessary movement of employees within the workplace. Practically, a lean design would look at an employee’s activity within a period and may eliminate a few steps that are considered wasteful.

As the employees’ movement is restricted, they have to twist, turn, bend, and stretch in one posture and position for an extended period. Doing that causes health implications, like lower back pain, in the long run.

In this case, the manufacturing firm needs to integrate its lean design with ergonomic principles to ensure the wellbeing of its employees.

How to integrate ergonomics into lean manufacturing processes to improve your business performance

There are four approaches to incorporate lean ergonomics into your warehouse or manufacturing operation.

1. Apply a lean ergonomic design

The first step to integrating ergonomics is to re-evaluate the design of the manufacturing environment.

For instance, lean leaders may use a scored risk assessment to identify equipment and tasks with design flaws.

Once the flaw is identified, they can replace the equipment with a safer one or redesign the task to fit the employee’s working conditions.

You can easily replace the traditional industrial bench with an ergonomic assembly workbench that guarantees faster performance and safety.

In redesigning the workstation, the focus should be on how the workers interact with the workstation, ensuring that they maintain good posture and are organized to avoid wasting time looking for a part.

2. Organization

An organized lean ergonomic workstation will economize non-value added motions while ensuring operator health and safety.

custom assembly workbench

On the custom assembly workbench above, the adjustable shelf with tilt allows the operators to see and grab what they need quickly. It minimizes the time spent looking and reaching for the parts. In addition it reduces the strain on the wrist associated with reaching.

Similarly, optimizing part presentation helps achieve a more organized workstation and promotes lean ergonomics. Lean leaders need to ensure that all components are within view and that bulky equipment is easy to handle.

The work surface on the station above is equipped with fixed inset rollers in the back and pneumatic ball transfers in the middle. It takes less time and effort for the operators to handle the load on the station. It also helps prevent ergonomic injuries from lifting, pushing and pulling heavy items.

Articulating bin holder with storage bins can be pulled closer for easy reach of small items and pushed out of the way when not in use.

Lastly, keep the workstation organized so that activities are done the same way consistently, following standard work procedures and manufacturing uniformity. This helps your employee memorize the work routines and execute tasks more efficiently.

3. Training

Training is essential to ensure that team members are competent and comfortable with these jobs.

This training should incorporate basic ergonomics principles and design aspects. So that team members can spot risk concerns and use these ergonomic design alternatives as they construct conceptual designs.

Members of the lean team may also do ergonomics risk assessments and analyses of how employees interact with workstations, components, and equipment.

By training your employees, you carry them along on how the firm strives to keep them happy and get more done with minimal effort.

As a result, you can trust your employees to freely identify and report stressors in their work routine. They will be proud of contributing to continuous improvement efforts.

4. Scale

Extend these lean ergonomics principles into other departments in the manufacturing operation to ensure overall success within your business.

Conclusion

Integrating ergonomics into your lean manufacturing design will keep your employees engaged, healthy, and more productive.

In the long run, a lean ergonomic design will boost your firm’s profitability by saving you money, scaling your business to withstand future challenges, and competing in the global space.

Are you ready to integrate ergonomics into your lean manufacturing best practices?

BOSTONtec provides ergonomic workstations and custom solutions to increase productivity, ROI, and employee satisfaction.

Contact us to start making more profit for less effort at your workstation.

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