In the manufacturing world, there is a constant pressure to innovate and improve operations. While most of the time that is related to improving the bottom line and allowing companies to achieve greater success, there is one aspect of the industry that has to improve for both cost efficiency and worker safety.
Ergonomics is the idea of making it easier for people and machines to work together, and it is changing the face of the manufacturing industry in a big way. Today we’ll talk about why that is and how it can shape the future of the industry.
Ergonomics: Need vs. Want
With most workplace improvements, the goal is to increase productivity so that the company can have a better return on investment (ROI). However, in this case, there is a lot more at stake which is driving innovations in the area of ergonomics. Most notably is the fact that the factory workforce is aging and gaining weight, which means that the strains of the job can lead to injury and lost production.
In fact, some insurance companies are losing money due to manufacturers filing claims that outpace their regular fees. As this continues, something has to give; either the factories need to make things safer for their workers, or they will face steep insurance hikes if they can get insured altogether.
Ergonomics Equals Better ROI
Fortunately, to make the factory floor safer, companies are also making it much more efficient. By reducing the amount of bending, stooping, and lifting that workers do, you can minimize fatigue while also making things so much easier for everyone involved.
As we all know, the easier it is to complete a task the more productive you can be overall. Thus, even if your company is not filing a ton of injury claims, you still can benefit greatly from improved ergonomics.
The Science of Productivity
One of the most important ways to achieve success in this regard is to study how things work and why these problems exist in first place. With ergonomics, the issue is that workers are putting too much pressure and stress on their bodies to get the job done. Thus, the more data you can collect about how the human body works (especially as it gets older and/or heavier), the better you can be about fixing these issues.
For example, bending over can put a lot of strain on your back. Thus, placing items on the floor can lead to decreased productivity, especially if a worker pulls a muscle and has to stop. Reaching over is even worse, as it puts more pressure on the spine and the surrounding area, which can lead to an increase in back pain.
To combat both of these problems you can place items in an easy to reach spot (usually between thirty and forty inches) and reduce the need for reaching by having items within a range of about two feet from where a worker will be standing. As you can see, understanding the science can yield some incredible finds.
Implementing a New Strategy
While finding the data is one thing, it can be a whole other challenge to implement these changes on the floor. However, the cost of doing nothing can be far worse than any setbacks due to reformatting your system, so no matter what it is a necessary part of the job. Here are some creative ways that you can make things more ergonomic in your factory.
Use Mobile Workstations
A simple way to ensure that products stay within the ideal range for your workers is to use a mobile workstation to allow them to move items into inventory. This way, instead of reaching for products as they work, employees can have them always within arm’s reach. As long as the items are within that 30-40 inch range, things are golden.
Use Integrated Software
Planning your picks and loads can be an excellent way to ensure that workers are maximizing their productivity while also making sure that they aren’t picking from awkward spots. Also, keeping tags and scannable items within an ideal range, so employees don’t have to reach up or over to scan them will go a long way toward making your floor more ergonomic. Finally, it’s much easier to manage your inventory if you have a digital system that shows where everything is at any given time.
Use Mechanics Whenever Possible
While some employees like to act tough by lifting heavier products without any assistance, the fact is that in the long run, they are going to do a lot more damage to their bodies. As such, utilize systems such as forklifts and automated pickers whenever possible so that workers are not straining themselves at all.
At first, it may seem like a misallocation of resources, but if you plan it all out ahead of time, then you can actually increase production. Think of it this way; a machine never gets tired. If your employees are grabbing heavy items repeatedly, then they will slow down after a few minutes and require more breaks. A machine will keep them on task for longer.
Overall, the focus on ergonomics has many practical benefits, not the least of which is that you can maintain a healthier and more productive workforce. In the end, your bottom line will be much more valuable once you implement these changes and see how they work for yourself.