Plan ahead for manufacturing ergonomics. Avoid costly fixes later on.
Manufacturing ergonomics can be tricky. For common activities like desk work, the ergonomics have been widely studied. But the ergonomics of manufacturing processes are usually not as well known. This can lead to problems.
Let’s look at an example
Princess Capybara has hired Leo to work in her research and development (R&D) department. He makes a process for Capybara Entreprises’ latest product, the Portable Pouch for Pebbles.
The pouch is made out of cloth, and the cloth needs to be ironed flat before it can be cut. But, the cloth has a special coating on it to prevent the dirt from the pebbles from getting out onto the parents’ furniture. So Leo designs his own special tool that won’t melt the coating. It’s much heavier than a normal iron, which means it doesn’t need to be as hot.
Leo does the process a few more times to make sure it works and everyone is satisfied with the results. Next, it’s time to move the process from R&D to the production floor. Rhonda, the operator on the floor, learns the new process quickly. She’s a fast learner.
But as demand for the product scales up, Rhonda starts having problems with her shoulders!
What caused this manufacturing ergonomics disaster? Is it because Rhonda is physically much smaller than Leo? Because she’s doing the process all day, every day, instead of just a few times? Probably both.
At any rate, Princess Capybara sees that this process isn’t going to be scalable as it is. But she can’t return the giant iron – it was a custom-made tool! So she ends up paying for a mechanical arm to lift the iron and place it back down, which costs a lot and delays her product launch.
Now, this all sounds pretty bad, but don’t worry, it doesn’t have to happen in your manufacturing line. You just have to plan ahead a little!
3 tips to predict and prevent manufacturing ergonomics problems:
- Have employees of a variety of body sizes try the process early on in development, before ordering any special tooling or formalizing the process.
- If your company has environmental health and safety (EH&S) staff who can help, ask for an evaluation of your process early on.
- Use the Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA) tool. The RULA is a worksheet used by EH&S professionals to predict when an activity will cause ergonomics problems and injuries based on objective information that is fairly easy to obtain, such as what range of motion the person’s joints will move through and how frequently they’ll be doing the movement. You can find this tool by googling.
If Princess Capybara had thought to require Leo to do these things up front, she could have saved a lot of time and money.
Weekly Challenge: Look for ways that you can apply this lesson in your own business. Have you found any opportunities to try it? Comment below!