Machine Shops Use Ergonomics to Increase Productivity and Reduce Injury

November 20, 2015 / , , , , , , ,

Of all the challenges that industrial metal-cutting companies face, process and workflow bottlenecks are at the top of the list. While lean manufacturing practices have helped machine shops streamline production processes and improve machine efficiency, many shops are using other methods aimed at optimizing their human capital. One strategy is to improve ergonomics.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), ergonomics is defined as fitting a person to a job to help lessen muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the number and severity of work-related injuries.

As a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology explains, larger volumes and longer hours of operation can easily turn the smoothest running operation into a frenzied, disorganized, and dangerous mess. However, when an operation is organized with ergonomics in mind, workers can maintain a high level of productivity while also staying safe.

U.S.-based automaker Ford, for example, is working with ergonomic experts to analyze its assembly line and workstations to prepare for more than 100 new vehicle launches, reports IndustryWeek. Using technology used by professional athletes to assess their performance, Ford captured the data of arm, leg, back and torso movements with motion-capture sensors, 3-D printed equipment and virtual workstations. The experts then analyzed more than 50,000 data points related to muscle strength and weakness, joint strain, and body imbalance to improve plant design and operations. The changes resulted in two significant improvements:

Metal-cutting companies like California-based Earle M. Jorgensen Company (EMJ) are also using ergonomics as a smart business tool. After performing an in-depth ergonomic study at one of its metalworking facilities, EMJ made several changes on the shop floor, including repositioning band irons and adjusting the height of staging tables. As a result, the service center was able to reduce employee injuries, improve operator efficiency, and increase output.

While the benefits of workplace ergonomics are clear, how to successfully implement them on the shop floor can be murky. An article from EHS Today says the key is to engage your employees in the process by using the following five principles:

  1. Invite them. Be clear about your goals to create an ergonomic plan and have your employees be part of the process. Genuinely invite them to be involved, and let them know your intentions are to help make their lives easier and safer.
  2. Communicate. Continue the transparency by keeping the lines of communication open. Use announcements, bulletin boards, safety meetings, and training sessions to keep the ergonomic conversation going.
  3. Train your team members. A team is as only as good as its people. Train your employees for success with ergonomic awareness and skills development training. Use real-world examples (i.e., pictures and case studies) to illustrate the before and after.
  4. Celebrate wins. Celebrate ergonomic successes. This will help keep momentum going and shape a culture of safety.
  5. Respond quickly. When an employee suggests an improvement, respond immediately and with enthusiasm. Keep the team member updated on the improvement process—and don’t forget to say thank you.

Have you analyzed your workflow for ergonomic inefficiencies? If so, what changes have you made and what improvements have you experienced?