Monday, July 23, 2007

Happy Seat boosts morale

Applied ergonomics in the auto industry reduces back and joint strain ...

"Aching backs and sore joints led a group of hourly workers at Chrysler's Sterling Heights Assembly Plant to help design a special seat so they could work inside vehicles with less strain.

The result: A contraption called the Happy Seat.

It's one of a handful of plant changes designed to make jobs easier, injuries rarer and quality better. More than that, it's the kind of innovation and cooperation that pays off with more worker satisfaction and better vehicles, workers say.

UAW members had made similar suggestions before -- as workers routinely do at Toyota, Honda and General Motors Corp. plants -- but usually their concerns were brushed aside.

To ensure a quality launch for the Sebring sedan and convertible, Sterling Heights workers advised engineers and company officials -- even traveling to Germany on the company jet a couple of times -- to craft tools such as a device called the Spider Fixture, which has giant tentacles to reach across an open convertible body and measure the glass fit.

"Before they would bring something in here, and you would see two or three years for engineering changes. I am seeing engineering changes now in two weeks to 60 days. That's unheard of," said UAW committeewoman Sandra Dix. "It has taken morale sky high."

Dix, who began working at the plant more than 30 years ago, said the changes are profound, noting that the workers are coming up with ideas to do tasks that they long had to do by hand even if they had complained about needing a better way.

Ergonomic issues

In recent years, automakers have been turning more and more of their attention to ergonomic issues. Michelle Hill, director of North American benchmarking for Harbour Consulting Inc., a top consulting agency that studies plant efficiency, said even more work is expected.

"When you have workers going into the vehicles who put in headliners ... and all of that stuff, it is ergonomically very difficult and can cause a lot of scratches and dings to the vehicle. So companies continue to try to find new ways of doing things for ergonomics and quality," she said.

Hill said Chrysler has not been consistent in using these types of procedures in the past, but with updates to its assembly facilities, such as the recent retooling at Sterling Heights, changes are being made. "It gives them the opportunity to start implementing these types of things," she said.

Before the launch of the new Chrysler Sebring last year, hourly workers noticed an element of the vehicle's design that was surely going to make their jobs more cumbersome."    (Continued via freep.com)    [Ergonomics Resources]

Happy Seat - Ergonomics

Happy Seat

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