Loading... Please wait...

The Value of a LEAN Workplace


LEAN Workstations and Organizational Benefits

They may appear to be similar to traditional workspaces, but LEAN workplaces create quantifiable and unquantifiable benefits to the production organization which are certainly superior. Most workstations just ‘happen’, with no one putting much thought into designing them. But much more time and effort should be applied up front before defining a true LEAN workspace.

Industrial grade work areas that incorporate LEAN help maintain the optimized amount of work-in-process inventory. They create workspaces where the easiest thing to do is follow the ideal work sequence; a work area that is set up to perform a task that has been deemed an essential step in the manufacturing process. They must be as comfortable for the user as possible; include all the tools and supplies necessary to complete the current task with maximum safety; and be seamlessly integrated into the manufacturing process.

An optimal workspace must adhere to all safety regulations, with high uptimes and a work pattern that is cyclical and repeatable while building quality into the process.

Pull production is a basic pillar of LEAN manufacturing. In this environment, upstream activities like material handling get their signals for need pulled from downstream activities such assembly. LEAN principles apply to workstations as well. Users pull parts and access assembly tools when and where they need them on a JIT (just-in-time) basis.

LEAN Workstation Differences

In the traditional workstation, tools and parts are arranged horizontally across the work surface. With this rectangular desk configuration however, tools and parts are located further and further from the user, requiring more reaching. A LEAN workstation has a more vertical set up, with necessary materials and tools located closer to the operator. This minimizes space required and wasted time spent seeking out and moving parts and tools.

A LEAN workstation is created to ensure an absolute minimum of wasted motion. which refers to any unnecessary time and effort required to assemble a product. Traditionally, the majority of workstations were laid out for the material handler's convenience and not that of the operator – the true value-adding employee.

Wasted motion through reaching is the ultimate time waster. It consumes an extremely valuable resource (time) while adding no value. Wasted motion in an assembly workstation can vary with the type of production and the associated volume. In a low-volume, custom-build circumstance, the typical waste is having to look for tools, parts and data required to complete each task. In high-volume production, this waste is associated with unwarranted turns, twists, uncomfortable reaches or pickups, and unnecessary walking to get parts.

Undue reaches are probably the most common type of unproductive motion for a user, but thankfully are often the easiest to correct too. Another major indicator of a sub optimal workstation is unnecessary walking. When this muscle strain is coupled with excessive reaches, standing, stretches and bending to lift heavy objects or locate tools, productivity during the shift steadily declines as excess large muscle usage increases and fatigue sets in. All effort should instead be finely choreographed, so that every movement has a purpose and each task is done as easily as possible by the worker.

The principles of a motion economy, used extensively for the massive production needs during World War II, were largely abandoned during the American fascination with computers which began in the 1960s. The motion economy process requires an assessment of all tasks done by the operator, maximizing the use of hands and using momentum when possible. It should arrange the work to permit an easy and natural rhythm. A LEAN workspace makes repetitive tasks more efficient and effective. They also minimize cumulative physical damage like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.

Using the Operator’s Perspective and Ergonomics

Watching the operator at work is a vital part of the workstation creation process. Operators know best how products are made and processed of course. Ask your employees about their pains and annoyances, what would they like to change about their workstations, and what things do they like about it.

or the best perspective, engineers should also step in and do the work themselves to understand what needs there may be. They should try the workstation for themselves and feel things like how much force they need to use, and which positions they have to use while doing the work. Are they comfortable doing these tasks?

A great way to build a new workstation design is to create a mockup using styrofoam, cardboard and PVC pipe, and then let the user evaluate them. This also allows users to feel they have some control over the work environment and can adjust the workspace to suit them -without compromising the assembly process too, of course.

The study of ergonomics is essential to a LEAN workstation. There is an optimum work zone, an optimum grab zone and maximum grab zone. Production sequencing, parts presentation, and organization of tools and equipment should all be considered in regard to these 3 zones, and engineers should make an effort to limit all work to them, with an emphasis on the optimum ones.

An ergonomic workstation design plays a decisive role in reducing waste during production. From an ergonomic aspect, the main focus is on the worker. This is why these workstations are designed to fit each worker and not the other way around.

Engineers should also remember that people move in arcs, not straight lines. Ergonomic reach zones extend horizontally and vertically, with reaches below shoulder height being the least fatiguing. Tools and parts used most often should have placement within horizontal reach whenever possible. Smooth, continuous motions of the hands are preferable to zigzag or straight-line motions involving sudden and sharp direction changes.

This data should be used to configure workspace size, shape, the height of surfaces and if they should be adjustable, if the workspace should be mobile or stationary, what the best accessory placement and options should be, where levers and control buttons should be placed, and if the space should include things like articulating arms.

All of these factors create a LEAN workspace that eliminates unnecessary motion and increases operator productivity.

The Importance of Parts vs. Tools

There are tradeoffs between access to parts efficiency vs. finding tools quickly. Depending on the dominant activity required, engineers must optimize the process by placing the most-used items within the optimal grab and work zones. The type of product being assembled can be the main determinant here.

For some applications, a successful workstation starts with the tools in a central location where they're going to be used. This is often the case when production involves lower volumes. Then the rest of the workstation should be designed around that, putting parts where they are needed most.

Parts are a more critical consideration than tools in other instances. When there is need to find standard parts for a high-volume production environment their ease of retrieval is paramount, and the opposite focus to workstation layout is required.  Both parts and tools are needed to get the job done. And either way, the most commonly used tools and materials should be located as closely to the worker as possible. All tools and material parts should have a definite and permanent placement as well, with things like gravity bins or containers used when possible, and located to allow for the best sequence of motions.

The ideal workstation allows parts and tools for the workday complement one another, incorporating items such as modular drawer cabinets and CNC storage cabinets and caddies.

LEAN Solutions

On average, research shows that a company could make a one-time investment equal to ½ of one employee’s annual wages and impact profitability many times over. This type of investment in you manufacturing facility can provide on the highest ROI benefits you will see regarding the efficiency and profitability of your company.

The products we sell at ShopFlow Solutions are all designed to make your workplace the most productive environment possible, while it continually improves over time. Our heavy-duty, industrial grade products stand up to the harshest working environments.

Contact us or call today at (800) 274-4123, and let us share the wealth of information our company has learned over the years helping organizations just like yours.

  • Workstationis
  • LEAN manufacturing
  • Ergonomics
  • Productive workspace


What's New