By Michael Hughes
Ergonomically attuned lean
To outsiders, lean is a cut of meat or a desired physique.
But to industrial engineers and IE types, lean is a passion and a way of life. Lean processes optimize the flow of materials, personnel and information. The traditional Toyota seven wastes (along with a couple of others later researchers have developed) are eliminated or minimized. A solid lean program economizes the use of resources, truly offering practitioners a way to do more with less. Processes become solid, sustainable and repeatable and remain so until a new better way is discovered. Then, lean again makes that process sustainable and repeatable.
But for human beings, sometimes repeatability can bring problems – things like musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) and repetitive strain injuries (RSI).
Enter ergonomics and a cover story that covers all these problems and solutions together. In “A Lean Look at Ergonomics” on Page 28, Jack Kester reveals that on occasion, a lean manufacturing program can save a company just enough money to cover the added compensation costs from increased MSDs and RSIs.
Obviously, such a program doesn’t help an organization’s bottom line. And most importantly, the broken down people left in the program’s wake suffer.
Kester reinforces the point that people are the most important component of lean. IEs often brag that their best ideas come from talking to people on the front lines and others involved in operations. They’re also the ones who bear the brunt of bad processes and benefit from ergonomically tuned improvements.
So, Kester argues, integrate ergonomics into your lean plan early. Make sure risk assessments and quality improvements pay attention to what happens to the people involved. Remember that workstation design is akin to people design.
This edition has plenty of ideas that can help you pay attention to the ergonomics in your situation, from an interview with a Duke University Medical Center ergonomist to products that can bring ergonomics into the office. Of course, for a more intensive ergonomics program, visit IIE’s Applied Ergonomics Conference from March 18-21 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas.
Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at email@example.com or (770) 349-1110.