Preplanning helps ensure a workstation design that successfully integrates the operator, task and environment.

Taking a few minutes to follow these four basic steps can help ensure proper
workstation design. For additional guidelines of item placement visit ergonomic reach zones page.

STEP 1: Inventory the Workstation

Draft an inventory of all tools, equipment and components necessary to perform the task. Most items will fall into the following categories:

Tools – screwdrivers, pliers, snips, pneumatic drivers, wrenches, soldering irons, pens, markers, scissors, etc.

  • Identify tools needed for the task so they can be given a specific location on the workstation. If 12 hand tools are scattered on a station, every time one is needed, an operator must break concentration and vision from the task to locate the next tool. If each tool is kept in a predetermined location, over time the operator will build up a memory of where the tool is and reach for it without breaking concentration.
  • Like tools should always be arranged next to each other with the smallest tool placed on the left. This will aid the operator in building a memory that will minimize the time associated with finding a tool.

Test and Process Equipment – meters, scopes, generators, test beds, scales, microscopes, gauges, etc.

  • Weights, dimensions, electrical and air requirements of any tool or instrument that will be used on the workstation must be identified to properly plan the layout.
  • Electrical outlets should be made available within easy reach if the operator is going to be plugging and unplugging electrical outlets regularly.
  • Instrument outlets and air connectors typically should be placed under the work surface.

Components – screws, nuts, bolts, washers, spacers, capacitors, gears, caps, boxes, bags, tape, wire, labels, etc.

  • Knowing which and how many components are required is essential to planning workstation storage and/or kit size and placement.
  • Material handling into and out of the workstation should also be evaluated at this time. Efficiently getting material to and from the task area with proper ergonomic considerations is often the most challenging part of workstation design.
  • Using trolleys that integrate with the station, moving work surfaces, overhead cranes or conveyors with retractable ball transfers can simplify material movement.

Product – Item on which the task is being performed.

  • The weight, dimensions and characteristics of the product are important for the proper design of the station. If a support fixture is needed, this is a good time to plan for its placement.
  • If the weight of the product is above 40 pounds (or whatever weight is determined by company safety policy) or the size of the product is large and cumbersome to handle, retractable ball transfer in the work surface can help simplify the task.
Reference Materials – prints, documents, binders, books, etc.
  • Frequently overlooked, reference materials usually require placement within good vision range of the operator and could involve additional task lighting. Often materials will need to be stored easily when not in use.
  • Place charts and instructions so they are viewed from left to right and then top to bottom. Note: Operators from different cultures might prefer a reverse placement.
  • Arrange charts and instructions with a maximum of three vertical columns and three horizontal rows. Avoid the use of more than nine different colors. Too many colors can cause confusion.
STEP 3: Plan the Layout

Assign all items on the workstation inventory list to the appropriate ergonomic reach zone. Workstation hardware itself will play a major role in the effectiveness of the design. The workstation should be optimized for the individual operator. This will mean setting the correct work surface height, correct seating, proper lighting and locating all components and tools within easy reach for the individual user.

STEP 2: Assign Priorities

After identifying what tools and materials will be required to complete the task, the next step will be to decide how and where to place these articles relative to the operator. This is accomplished by a thorough analysis of the tools, equipment and components as they integrate with the task. The higher the assigned priority, the closer the item should be to the operator. The relative importance of each article should be determined through the ergonomic consideration of the following:

  • Frequency of use
  • Sequence of use
  • Accuracy required
  • Duration of use
  • Safety
  • Force needed
  • Convenience

Frequency - How often a tool or component is accessed by the operator while performing the complete task.

Example: If in the course of a 6 hour assembly process (360 minutes), a task requires 300 pieces of Part A and 30 pieces of Part B, the operator would access a bin for Part A an average of once every 1.2 minutes (360 minutes/300 pieces) and the bin for Part B once every 12 minutes (360/30). In this example, the bin for Part A should be placed in a position that is easier to access than Part B.

Sequence – The order in which the operator needs to access the components to perform the task. Often certain components need to be placed in an assembly before other components can be added.

Example: If components must be accessed in the order of A, then B, then C, etc. consider arranging bins in most comfortable position for operator. The most common format is like reading a book - left to right and top to bottom.

If material is delivered to the workstation in a kitted container, the first component to be used should be located on the top, the next underneath, and so on.

Accuracy – The precision level or quality the task requires.

Example: Installation of fine components or assemblies that require precision assembly or adjustment. Reading detailed documentation that is required to perform the task like placing items in a circuit board would require better positioning than a document listing the monthly build schedule.

Duration – The period of time the operator will use a particular tool, component or piece of equipment.

Example: If during the course of a 30 minute test the operator uses a voltmeter for 15 minutes and a signal generator for 5 minutes, the voltmeter would require a more convenient placement than the generator.

Safety – The consideration of and planning for injury prevention.

Example: Items like hot solder irons, knives, open flames, cleaning fluids, heat guns, saws, etc. will often require special consideration above factors like frequency, sequence, convenience duration or force.

Force – The level of physical exertion or dexterity required to perform the task.

Example: If Part A weighs 5 pounds and Part B weighs 0.1 ounce, Part A would require more effort to handle than Part B and should be positioned appropriately.

Convenience – Never “over-engineer” a layout. Sometimes common sense or user input will dictate which item has the highest priority and the best placement.

STEP 4: Review Material Handling Process

At this point, material handling should be reviewed to ensure the most efficient, safest methods are being used. Some things to review include the following:

  • Moving material to perform the task into and out of the workstation
  • Moving the product on which the task is being performed into and out of the workstation
  • Material handling vehicles (carts, containers, conveyors, ball transfers)
  • Conveyor routing for best material movement
  • Ease of loading and unloading from conveyors. Are conveyors at the appropriate height?
  • Material handling containers and tote sizes (in relation to quantities of material for the task, and weight, to eliminate heavy lifting)

All material handling vehicles ideally have large, easy rolling wheels with simple-to-use brakes that lock securely in both roll and rotation. Vehicle handles should be at an appropriate height for the users. Trucks with elevating platforms can be used to eliminate lifting. Bending and stooping should be eliminated wherever possible through the use of appropriate containers, and material handling vehicle.

STEP 5 Customize!

We understand some assembly applications have specific needs that require special solutions so we make customization easy and affordable. With productivity and operator safety in mind, our design and engineering team can help create options and accessories to meet those needs - like custom work surfaces for inserting scales. Contact BOSTONtec today for a free consultation.

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