Saturday, December 08, 2007

Is Automation a Natural Complement to Lean Strategies?

The role of ergonomics in material handling ...

"New White Paper Says Material Handling and Ergonomics Too Often Take a Back Seat in Process Design

How do Lean manufacturing and supply chain concepts relate to material handling?

A new white paper from the Material Handling Institute, the association that supports material handling vendors, attempts to answer that question. The report was written by researchers from the Industrial Engineering school at the University of South Dakota, and is available at no charge from the MHIA web site: Integrated Lean Thinking & Ergonomics: Utilizing Material Handling Assist Device Solutions for a Productive Workplace.

The report concludes that material handling and ergonomics should be key factors in Lean process design, or that in other cases when considering material handling options, Lean concepts should be brought to bear on evaluating the pros and cons.

Given the sponsorship, it’s no surprise that the report strongly supports greater use of material handling equipment. But that’s fine. We wish it would have more squarely addressed the financial and return on investment aspects of the analysis. In other words, there are lots of cases where improvements in material handling systems could be made, but they can’t be cost justified, at least using traditional approaches. The report implied we should perhaps broaden our thinking, but never quite gets to the specifics.

Nonetheless, the report offers many ideas worth pondering, perhaps teeing up additional research in terms of really understanding, for example, the full costs of operator fatigue.

Ergonomics and Waste

At the core of Lean thinking is the removal of waste. Taiichi Ohno, Toyota’s chief of production in the post WW II period and father of the Toyota Production System, identified seven potential areas as waste:

''' The report states that “Ergonomics plays a significant role in achieving the goals of lean thinking by reducing costs and improving productivity through eliminating waste (e.g., unnecessary motions) and reducing mistakes (improving quality). By limiting the number of repetitions and excess motion, a company will save time and money. Ergonomics plays into lean as much as lean plays into ergonomics, a effective tool that links the two is material handling assist devices, more specifically; ergonomic assist devices (e.g., carts, lift tables, tool balancers, etc)."    (Continued via Supply Chain Digest)    [Usability Resources]

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