Integrating Ergonomics with Lean Processes

While ergonomics- with a focus on reducing injuries in the warehouse- and Lean- with its goal of reducing waste- originated in the manufacturing world, both strategies don’t really have anything to do with each other. Or do they? These principles have different goals, but they can complement each other in making the workplace a more efficient and safer place.

Lean manufacturing processes minimize waste within 8 areas of the enterprise: Transport, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Over-Processing, Defects and Skills. Reducing waste in these areas saves significant costs.

However, some employers are reporting that because lean processing has created lots of repetition within a job while eliminating rest time for employees, many more employees are suffering injuries. These have come about because of the repetitive nature of high forces and stressful postures. What can a manufacturer do?

Embedding ergonomic methods into lean manufacturing process enables you to design work flows that minimize risks to employees. For example, one automobile manufacturer implemented lean into one assembly line, but found that many more workers were suffering injuries until they integrated ergonomics into the new assembly line, reducing injuries significantly.

Integrating Ergonomics with Lean

UNEX carton flow rack is lean and ergonomic

To ensure that ergonomics is a key component of the lean process, the planning team must make ergonomics and safety, just like waste reduction and value creation, core values of the lean process. Ergonomics metrics must be included in the lean process so that improvements can be evaluated. When creating value stream maps, ergonomic risk assessments and quality metrics must be included. You can use a scored risk assessment that looks at certain risk factors within assembly lines or workflows, then prioritizes what changes should be made to improve safety while eliminating waste.

For example, when you are designing workstations or work flow, incorporating ergonomics into the designs can improve safety factors. The focus should be on how the worker interacts with the workstation, ensuring they use correct posture and that the workstations are kept neat and organized to eliminate the need to search for a part, wasting time. Utilizing carton flow and pick trays in workstations not only keeps the workstation neat and orderly- it keeps important parts and products at the point of pick, eliminating excessive reaching that can result in strain or injury.

You can look at the layout of the materials needed at the workstation-like tools and monitors, for example- and reorganize them to be closer to the worker to reduce reaching distances. You can also organize materials so that the worker doesn’t have to twist around to reach something, potentially injuring his/her spine. These rearrangements allow you to eliminate extraneous steps and movements for your workers, improving ergonomics while boosting productivity.

This philosophy is not limited to assembly or packing workstations, and can be implemented in multiple areas in a warehouse or manufacturing facility. Lineside storage, manufacturing supermarkets, and pick modules can all be improved by keeping parts and products in the “golden zone,” reducing the strain involved in a pick while improving pick speed and accuracy.

As your workers are being trained on the lean process, basic ergonomic concepts and design factors can be included in the training so that they can better recognize risk factors and safety issues.

In the end, the goals of ergonomics design should complement the goals of the lean manufacturing process, helping manufacturers to reduce risk that may be created when trying to remove waste throughout your organization.

Solutions from UNEX Manufacturing can help create lean operations with ergonomics in mind. Contact our expert Pickologists and find out how we can help you bring this winning combination to your operation!