How ergonomics can improve productivity and safety in manufacturing

Ergonomics can be described as the study of people and how they interact with their environment. Successful integration of this within manufacturing can have substantial benefits, especially with regards to improving productivity and safety culture.

Automated solutions can augment the human element in certain tasks, removing health and safety risks and limitations completely - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The need for more ergonomic systems is necessary in order to maximise both production and workflow processes – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

As industry moves into 4IR and manufacturing employees increasingly work with more advanced tools like cobots, automated processes and sensor technology, the need for more ergonomic systems is necessary in order to maximise both production and workflow processes.

Laura McDowall, human factors consultant (ergonomic specialist) at Kinneir Dufort, a company who provide research, innovation, design and product development services, said to The Manufacturer: “In manufacturing, employees regularly interact with the three ps: people, plant equipment, and processes.”

She added: “Here, the issues of safety and productivity can vary hugely depending on the processes put into place by the employer. Using the principles of ergonomics can be a way to ensure these comply to the highest standards.”

Essential aspects of introducing ergonomics

  • A scaled approach that suits the needs of the system and specific issues, e.g. assembly lines for electronics or food manufacturing production lines
  • Integration of ergonomics throughout the manufacturing process to assist employees
  • Establishment of an accountable and achievable strategy that aligns with the system’s existing processes

Utilising ergonomics or human factors as McDowall said can be beneficial for all users, from more general companies, to employees on the manufacturing floor and even consumers.

Using ergonomic technology and introducing these practices can show a company is willing to commit and invest in safe practices, and the health of employees. The benefit of this is numerous to the health and safety culture of the workforce, and therefore could result in improved performance.

She added: “Time saved in manufacturing activities through the introduction of human factors [ergonomics] can save a company a large amount of money overall; absenteeism and injury can be reduced through improved health and safety, and warranty issues and quality concerns amongst customers may be reduced through improved process and design.”

Ergonomics could greatly improve both productivity and safety procedures in manufacturing. As industry moves toward more advanced technologies, manufacturing businesses need to further introduce ergonomic practices to best maximise the potential of their employees, safety culture in the workplace and improve productivity.

Case study: Ergonomics at Ford

Manufacturing employees at Ford Valencia Engine Assembly, have been wearing a special suit with numerous sensors that track movement and help to promote good posture.

Created by Ford and the Instituto Biomecánica de Valencia, the project has involved 70 employees in 21 work areas across the company.

The body-tracking technology records movement via four specialised motion-tracking cameras that capture a 3D skeletal character animation of the user - image courtesy of Ford.
The technology is more typically used by sports coaches to ensure sports stars’ skills are maximised – image courtesy of Ford.

Typically, the technology is more commonly used by sports coaches to ensure sports stars’ skills are maximised, and it is also used to replicate sports players movements in video games.

The suit consists of 15 tiny movement tracking light sensors that are connected to a wireless detection unit. The system tracks how the person moves at work, highlighting head, neck, shoulder and limb movements.

Movement is recorded by four specialised motion-tracking cameras that capture a 3D skeletal character animation of the user.

Ergonomic specialists then use the data gathered to help employees align their posture correctly. Specific measurements captured by the system, for example an employee’s height or limb length, are then used to design workstations, to better fit employees.