Healthy staff and optimised production – the perfect combination

Creating the perfect symbiosis of logistics processes and ergonomics at the industrial work bench – that is the aim of ergologistics. The focus when designing state-of-the-art assembly workstations is increasingly shifting to the workers themselves. Their working environment is being steadily improved with targeted modifications that are geared toward good ergonomics. Modular building kit systems can be used to customise equipment for different requirements and production sequences. This approach eliminates unnecessary and potentially harmful movements for staff, which in turn drives down illness-related absence and significantly shortens working sequences. Another benefit of this efficient symbiosis between logistics workflows and manual processes is a clear boost in productivity.

A lot of the work done in industrial manufacturing environments involves manual operations that are repeated over and over. When it comes to work bench design, intralogistics activities and ergonomic requirements usually seem like polar opposites. For example, ensuring logistics processes run efficiently means making it as easy as possible to restock work benches with materials without needing any special aids. Staff often use standard containers at their work benches, with little consideration given to how these containers are arranged in front of them. As a result, semi-open fronted boxes are often lined up in a straight row parallel to the edge of the table. Weight, frequency of picking and even how far the worker at the bench can reach – none of these factors are taken into account. From a logistics point of view, the ideal containers are easy to transport, stackable and take up very little storage space. Workers are thus often confronted with large containers that can be difficult to work with when picking small parts. In cases like these, assembly workers have to adapt to their work benches, move around a lot more than is strictly necessary and perhaps even adopt poor posture. By contrast, when work benches are designed according to ergonomic principles, everything revolves around adapting the working area to the skills and physical features of the worker. Key considerations include high-quality chairs and height-adjustable work benches, easy movement of containers and crates, simple transport processes and ideal material supply and picking arrangements. To avoid unnecessary movement at the work bench, it is essential that workers can easily access and sort small parts within their reaching zone. 

Ergologistics takes a holistic approach

Ergologistics resolves the conflict of interest between efficient logistics processes on the one hand and the ergonomic requirements for a state-of-the-art work bench on the other. The ergologistic® concept from item, the market leader in building kit systems for industrial applications, takes in the entire production process – from material supply and transport to production at the work bench. For example, transport trolleys with smooth-running castors offer staff a safe and simple means of moving even heavy workpieces and materials from place to place. Further advantages include a low dead weight, high load carrying capacity and optimised chassis. Carefully thought-out transfer points make it easy to move typical industry containers from transport trolleys to work benches. Shelves with a dropped edge on the resupply side make sure there is nothing to obstruct restocking operations. Semi-open fronted boxes and containers are arranged on several levels and automatically slide forward on sloping surfaces so that materials can be rapidly replenished in efficient quantities. In the manual working area, Grab Containers are slotted directly into the Tray Stop Profile or profile groove in front of semi-open fronted boxes to provide sorting surfaces for small parts. Workers can also remove the Grab Containers and place them directly on the working surface, where they are in exceptionally easy reach. The end result is that staff can arrange picking systems to suit the way they want to work. Rubber buffers fitted to the bottom of the Grab Containers ensure they sit securely on the table top. What’s more, the ergonomic shape of the lip and the grooves on the bottom make it easy to pick out even the smallest parts, the special shape supporting precise picking, even from a range of angles. The different colours also offer a simple means of differentiating between contents, while a consistent labelling system means small parts can be ergonomically restocked and picked without the risk of mix-ups. The end result is a reliable system for the optimised picking and sorting of even small parts, with no unnecessary and stressful movements.

Efficient production sequences

Optimum ergonomic work bench design combined with intralogistics processes are an essential requirement for effective production sequences. On the one hand, transport trolleys and standard semi-open fronted boxes are used to supply materials, so that parts can be quickly and easily transferred to manual workstations without the need for tiresome refilling operations. On the other hand, the efficient supply, picking and sorting of parts improves processes and thus significantly cuts production times. For example, the rapid sorting of C-parts using the ergologistic® Grab Containers is far more effective than the impractical process of taking handfuls of small parts from full boxes and cluttering the work bench with small piles of materials. It also eliminates the risk of mixing different parts and mistaking one part for another. The item concept thus delivers much more efficient and reliable working processes at the transition point between intralogistics operations and an ergonomic work bench.

Integration and compatibility

One of the advantages of item ergologistic® is straightforward integration into pre-existing systems. For example, Grab Containers can be slotted into any Line 8 groove. Industry-standard semi-open fronted boxes are still used and are simply combined with the item products. Fundamentally, compatibility with the item building kit system and its more than 3,500 parts ensures that work benches can be perfectly tailored to the needs of employees. For instance, Grab Containers and Parts Container can also be combined with Pivot Arms, thus allowing workers to adapt their workstation to suit their own personal reach. Seamless integration into the item building kit system also means that pre-existing classic work benches can be combined and extended with ergologistic® components simply by using appropriate Uprights. item is continuously developing new ergologistic® products, testing them and evaluating them according to ergonomic and process-enhancing criteria. The company pursues a holistic approach to enhancing ergonomics throughout the entire manual production workflow, from logistics to the actual value-adding activities themselves – and all as efficiently as possible. Besides components for sorting C-parts and Pivot Arms for keeping tools and materials in easy reach, it also supplies lighting equipment, since ambient lighting has a major influence on the physical and mental strain on staff and the scale of error rates.

Linking lean production with ergologistics

Ergologistics combined with lean production? They might seem an unlikely pair, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The latest interpretation of the lean philosophy puts people at the very heart of everything. Companies that ignore ergonomic factors in work bench design are being wasteful, as they are not utilising the full potential of their staff. It is only by reducing the strain on staff for the long term that companies can achieve maximum efficiency. Grab Containers offer a good example of how ergologistics can be combined with lean production criteria. By placing a Grab Container directly on his or her work bench, the employee is eliminating the unnecessary movement of reaching up to pick parts, i.e. tackling what the lean philosophy views as waste. This in turn cuts production times. Another example is the process-oriented design of transport trolleys and racks that ensure efficient material supply but also improve workflows and reduce stock levels. The end result is once again the avoidance of what the lean philosophy views as waste. Furthermore, lowering stock levels lightens the loads that have to be moved around from place to place, which takes strain off the workforce. Every time routes can be shortened, waste is reduced and the working scenario is improved. Another practical example of lean production and ergologistics working together is the engineering of an item FIFO trolley. A split incline on the roller conveyors ensures that crates arrive at the material removal point with their opening facing the worker. That makes it easier for staff to see what is inside and remove parts from the container, which again reduces strain while boosting efficiency. As a central aspect of the lean philosophy, Karakuri applies low-cost automation to processes and thus achieves clear improvements in the working environment. If companies invest in ergonomics when designing their work benches, they can rely on a good return on that investment. Height-adjustable work benches, optimum lighting and specially developed components for the supply, picking and sorting of small parts ensure that the working environment can be adapted to the workers, and not the other way around. This ideal implementation of ergonomic principles has earned the Work Bench System from item the AGR seal of approval from the Campaign for Healthy Backs.

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