Lean, Ergonomic Innovation Born on the Factory Floor

Posted in: Innovation, Product News- May 15, 2013 No Comments

Innovation is rarely planned. Often the next great idea is simply the result of trying to solve a problem. That’s been the mission of our company, Innovative Office Products, for more than 25 years.

Last summer, as we looked to diversify our products offerings, it seemed only natural to look at what we were doing ourselves. So I joined our team of manufacturing engineers on our factory floor. What we saw were improvisations made by our engineers to improve the lives and productivity of our workers. One that stood out was a two hand safety device rigged to accommodate the height of different workers.

Let me explain. We have some height diversity among our workers – ranging from those under 5 ft 5 to taller than 6 ft. Recognizing this, and realizing the fixed position of two hand safety devices was inefficient and uncomfortable, one of our engineers developed a rough solution.

Our team gave this solution’s design some thoughtful consideration. We also did plenty of research regarding the universe of two hand controls. What we found was a problem on factory floors across the country – a problem without a solution (aside from ours, of course).

Seeing the opportunity to improve the ergonomics of two hand safety controls, we created OpGuard™, the first two hand safety/anti-tie down device with instant height adjustment. In fact, we created a whole new brand – Easton Lean Tools – for our company that will be dedicated exclusively to the design and manufacture of ergonomic, safety and productivity aids for the lean manufacturing environment.

OpGuard™ is the first in a line of solutions from our new Easton Lean Tools brand. Our team is excited to see some of the thinking they’ve employed on our own manufacturing floor being developed for use in the wider manufacturing world.

Please be sure to check in regularly with our blog and website, as well as our @EastonLeanTools Twitter handle, for the latest product news, tips, advice and commentary on lean manufacturing and ergonomic issues.

- Joe Tosolt

Lean Ergonomics: The Key to Sustaining Productivity

Posted in: Lean Thinking- May 14, 2013 No Comments

Our parent company, Innovative Office Products, has run its factory based on lean manufacturing principles for nearly 20 years. And although ergonomics is our bread and butter, we are still learning new and important ways ergonomic practices and tools can boost productivity.

From many perspectives, ergonomics and lean manufacturing are two sides of the same coin. On one side, lean manufacturing: a set of principles seeking to improve the competitiveness and profitability of a business, often by eliminating unnecessary and wasteful behavior and practices among workers. On the other side is ergonomics, which aims to optimize the well-being and total system performance of workers by designing appropriate equipment and devices.

This is important because the methods, data and theories behind ergonomics can have a huge impact on production in a lean manufacturing facility. When workers are using equipment that isn’t designed ergonomically, they experience unnecessary strains and injuries — and lost productivity.

Common injuries in workspaces are called work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs). These classes of disorders include familiar problems, like carpal tunnel syndrome: repetitive motion injuries, repetitive strain injuries, cumulative trauma disorders, overuse syndrome and soft tissue disorders. These days, it’s no secret many of these issues can be avoided by making ergonomic improvements to employee workstations.

But in a lean manufacturing environment, ergonomics is about more than injury prevention. Lean facilities often see productivity gains when they adopt better ergonomics. By some estimates, ergonomics can save production time by as much as 25  to 40 percent on average. Ergonomics not only lets people work safer, it lets them work smarter.

For lean manufacturers, a key branch of ergonomics is anthropometrics, which studies the dimensions, weights and strengths of the human body. This data informs the design of effective workstations and spaces, helping people decide where best to place tools, parts, fixtures, controls and other objects. This knowledge allows us to hone in on solutions that improve ergonomics and increase productivity.

One such solution is height-adjustable workstations. From home offices to factory floors, these are becoming standard. They allow for workers of different heights to reach machinery, and often allow people to toggle between sitting or standing. This helps prevent strains, injuries and fatigue.

Many manufacturing workstations include computer screens operators must watch to control and monitor operations. When these monitors are fixed in one position, they can cause neck strains and slow productivity. An ergonomic and productivity-boosting solution is to attach monitors to adjustable arms or stands.

Two-hand controls are another example of an ergonomic nightmare with an available solution. These controls are definitely important safety devices — keeping operators’ hands out of harms way — but when they are fixed in place, they can cause unnecessary neck, back and leg strains. Making these devices ergonomically correct not only prevents injuries, but improves productivity (and that’s why we designed OpGuard™).

When it comes down to it, I think every employer needs to look at their employees’ work environments from an ergonomic perspective. It’s just good sense. Take a look at your employees’ or co-workers’ workstations through the lens of ergonomics and ask: how can I make their job more efficient? If you see a problem that involves reaching, bending, hunching or generally odd movements and postures, you can find a lean, ergonomic solution to solve it.