The configuration of the best workstation
Workstations are must-haves in all production areas and workshops and while workbenches and packaging tables are very similar in function, every station is in its sense unique, having a different size and scope of operation.
Designing or configuring a workstation is not a light task, not if you want an efficient workflow and a safe and healthy environment for your workers. An ideal work station should not only provide the necessary and appropriate space for carrying out specific activities, but also allow for storage space and be easily integrated into the company’s systems, whether it’s order fulfilment systems, material handling or anything else.
In fact, the best way to configure a workstation that enables both effective production and ergonomic use is to jot down a job description for the station. If you can clearly outline the task performed at the station and the workflow, it will become easier to create a plan for integrating the workstation into the workshop or warehouse systems.
Workstations Design Issues
Workstations are, in essence, strong and sturdy workbenches with additional storage areas and functional units, because storing supplies, materials and equipment is essential. However, organising all storage facilities with the workflow as to create and promote efficiency is always a design issue.
A common error in re-thinking space and storage area within a work station is to enlarge the work surface in order to serve storage purposes. Considering table top surface as storage space is never the answer, because a supply cluttered table top means reduced working space. This isn’t to mean that there isn’t great potential for storage space within the area of a workstation, the secret simply lies in the configuration.
The typical workbenches have 4 storage areas around them, the front, left and right side and the area behind the worker. Each of the areas has its own reach zones that can be accessible with or without bending or any other extra moves. The upper reach zones are areas that one can usually access without awkward movements, which is why they should be used for storage of the most frequently used equipment or most popular items. The lower reach zones, which can go around the entire work area, usually require bending, extra steps and sometimes even awkward reaches, which is why they should be used for larger items or bulk storage, basically slow moving materials.
These reach zones are important because when a worker moves from his or her neutral working position, they also need to return, which means double used time. A couple of seconds may seem insignificant on their own, but lost time can accumulate quickly and add up to ineffective operations. For this reason, storage space is an important design or configuration issue when it comes to efficient workstations. But exactly how much storage do you need? Well, that’s completely dependent on the tasks performed at the station and the equipment and supplies necessary, but also the volume of work.
The best top for your workbench
Storage zones within the workstation area are important and should be designed and configured with productivity and efficiency in mind, but the actual workspace, where all tasks are performed is the workbench, which is why it is essential to also configure a highly functional industrial bench. The most important characteristic of workbenches is the table top and, considering that there are plenty of choices to go around, it’s also paramount to choose the right top for your application.
For industrial, high capacity applications, steel tops are the best option, mainly because they are extremely durable. Steel tops for workbenches are also advisable in maintenance departments, heavy repair operations and assembly sections. Except for the fact that steel workbenches will last you a long time even in harsh environments, they also represent quite an economical solution in comparison to other alternatives.
Plastic laminate workbench tops are ideal for Electrostatic Discharge applications, where a steel work surface is obviously out of the question. These are also greatly suitable for chemical and solvent applications, as well as electrical charge dissipation, although many workstations simply make use of rubber mats for the same purpose. To that effect, for light industrial applications and workshops, one can simply opt for work benches with melamine surfaces and opt for removable rubber mats or texture surface mats.
Last, but not least, wood tops are also quite popular for medium duty applications, especially in environments like shop management, craftsman operations or general usage. They are highly aesthetic and have good impact resistance. Even though hardwood may not perform so well in harsh conditions, wood tops have the advantage of allowing for sanding and refinishing over time.
The ergonomic checklist
There are 3 main considerations to be taken into account when thinking about proper ergonomics for industrial workstations. Ergonomics is highly important due to the fact that it helps with cost reduction and operation profitability increase. This is directly connected to the fact that ergonomically correct stations enable workers to experience less pain, which means more energy and fewer sick days.
As mentioned above, on your ergonomic workstation checklist, there should be 3 main considerations: height adjustability, workstation size and equipment considerations. Awkward movement and strenuous reaching can be easily limited with the right height adjustment and this limitation means reduced fatigue and risk of injury. Workstations with adjustable height are also ideal due to the fact that they allow workers to shift from sitting to standing without too much effort or repetitive movement.
Workstation size is obviously essential because in any environment you’d want to use as little space as possible whilst allowing workers to operate efficiently and comfortably. In order to achieve that, mobility should be taken into account, as well as the station’s shape and material specifications.
Equipment considerations are connected to size considerations, because one ought to take into account the height and size of the equipment when calculating the surface or height of the actual work space. The weight of the equipment and that of the products and materials used are also important factors.
Wasted motion and how to get rid of it
In a manufacturing environment, wasted motion refers to any movement made by either a worker or a machine, within the work space, that doesn’t represent added value to the customer. This includes any reach for tools, rotating or twisting for parts and any other such extra movements. Eliminating wasted motion is greatly sought after in the manufacturing industry, where pull production principles apply to workstations as well, because workers pull parts and reach for tools on a just in time basis.
Specialists say that the most common type of wasted motion is represented by the movement of reaching. However, it’s not very difficult to get rid of this waste through a correct configuration of the station, together with size and height. Excessive reaches are notorious sources of wasted motion, combined with stretching and bending, reason for which storage configuration is also important, as detailed above.
In fact, the best way to get rid of wasted motion all together seems to be resurrecting the tenets of motion economy, a concept that has been utterly forgotten during the 1960s, because of the industry’s fascination with computers. Motion economy refers to a set of principles designed to make repetitive tasks more effective, easier and less conducive to cumulative trauma. However, due to their limitations with regards to differences in workers and physical limitations, motion economy should definitely be used together with ergonomics.