I decided to investigate the ergonomic factors that impact car assembly line and their workers. With so much of our modern conveniences being created in large factories running large assembly lines, I wanted to learn more about the ergonomics issues facing these factories.
According to one article Lin (2001), “Quality continues to be a defining issue for both manufacturing and service industries… In striving for improved product quality, approaches have traditionally emphasized design of product and process to reduce variability” (p.377). Therefore, it is important to investigate any links between ergonomics and the ability to improve the quality of the products. Lin (2001) explains where the ergonomics issues come into play most importantly:
“Most line-based assembly tasks are paced, with a constant fixed time window available for task completion at each workstation. Any variability between workstations in the time required to perform the task will lead to some workstations being overloaded (i.e., insufficient time to complete the task) while others are underloaded (i.e., more time available than is required to complete the task). Line balancing techniques…are designed to reduce these imbalances, but perfect balance can never be obtained due to the differences between assembly tasks. Even with a well-balanced line, the cycle-to-cycle variability at each workstation means that on some cycles the operator will finish early and have to wait for parts to arrive, while on other cycles there will be insufficient time to complete the task…Incomplete cycles result in quality deficiencies because vital operations were not accomplished.” (p.378).
Basically, whenever there is any variability in the manufacturing process, quality will suffer. In comparison to assembly lines, other styles of organizing a manufacturing plant allowed for a “sense of ownership, autonomy, decision latitude, team culture, and nonpaced tasks” (p. 379) which resulted in a marked increase in total quality of the product without detracting from the productivity of the plant, according to Lin (2001). The increased control that a factory worker has in non-assembly line style manufacturing leads to an increased quality of the product with fewer defects. Making changes to the assembly line can provide workers with a greater sense of ownership and therefore increase the quality of their lives as well as the quality of the product.
The ergonomic challenges being assessed in this study were about how the amount of time each worker has to assemble a part or complete his or her task can effect the quality of the part and how does their posture (either good or bad) contribute to the quality of the part.
The study found that having incorrect (either too fast or slow) timing for the assembly line or having bad posture can show a decrease in quality. Therefore, the more ergonomically designed a factory is the more productivity it will experience.
I also investigated the role of assembly line workers on manufacturing lines. I learned a lot about how workers should behave and how their contributions are measured. In the second article Finnsgård, Wänström (2012), I learned about a new type of production method called ‘Lean Production’. According to Finnsgård, Wänström (2012): “Lean production has in the last decades become the most important paradigm for production…In lean production, the focus is on the assembly operator, who should perform only value-adding work” (p. 2). Therefore, it is important to remove non-value adding work. The article discusses how assembly line workers should only be supplied with the materials needed to complete a task. Additionally, the parts of the task should be designed to best help the worker. Here are some of the design highlights:
1) The angle that a container used by a factory worker helps him or her complete the job better. Angled containers are better than their non-angled counterparts.
2) Horizontal containers do not seem to be the best choice because they create a weird situation with the worker’s center of gravity and the part’s center of gravity.
I was surprised at how detailed the guidelines are for helping design the work-spaces for assembly line workers. There are many factors that must be considered. A factory worker needs a lot of attention because anything short of optimization can result in worse quality of work and can slow down the entire assembly line.
Both articles show the importance of considering the worker when designing assembly lines. I think that it is really important to pay attention to the experience of the workers in the factory because they often go underappreciated despite all that they contribute. When workers go underappreciated the quality of their work goes down and the costs for the factory go up. There is no reason to not spend the extra effort to optimize their experience for better productivity and safety and efficiency.