Ergonomics and Lean Manufacturing, a Perfect Fit

Lean and Ergonomics are a perfect fit

A Perfect fit? Well, if you're familiar with Ergonomics and Lean, you know that these are systematic processes that help us seek perfection, yet perfection is always a little out of reach, and so we keep trying. And trying. Continuously.

There are few constants in business. Constant change is the reality, and being able to flex with that change is crucial for success and long term sustainability. And just when we think we have it all figured out, things change, and so we must adapt, continuously.

We are doomed to failure without a daily destruction of our various preconceptions.
Taiichi Ohno, Lean pioneer

If we strip away preconceived notions, the fit between ergonomics and lean becomes far better than some might imagine. Lean and ergonomics share core principles, and each is capable of creating significant value, and there's a good deal of overlap in purpose and methodologies.

I've studied and practiced ergonomics and lean, and believe that neither can be as effective without the other, and in many ways, they are one and the same. Companies that harness this synergy gain an advantage on their path to operational excellence, sustainability, and other goals they may seek. I believe ergonomics is not only important in lean management systems; it’s virtually impossible to achieve the benefits of lean without it.

The Synergy Between Lean and Ergonomics

Research lean and you'll quickly learn there are two underlying principles:

  1. Continuous Improvement
  2. Respect for People (or Respect for Humanity)

An effective ergonomics process demonstrates the Respect for People principle. To be effective, an ergonomics process must be a continuous improvement process. You'll also learn there are many lean "tools", and those tools are applied to reduce seven (or eight) kinds of waste in business processes. The table below summarizes the types of waste, and my interpretation of how they connect with ergonomics

Lean Waste Types

Connection to Ergonomics

Defects - Products or services that are out of specification that require resources to correct.

Defects come in many forms, but often are directly or indirectly related to a poor fit between human abilities and the work process.

W. Edwards Deming said it best: Eighty-five percent of the reasons for failure are deficiencies in the systems and process rather than the employee. The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better.

When there's a poor fit between worker capabilities and process requirements, unnecessary defects will occur, guaranteed.

Overproduction - Producing too much of a product before it is ready to be sold.  
Waiting - Waiting for a previous step in the process to complete. No one likes to wait, and people quickly lose focus, interest and engagement when forced to wait in a process. It's boring, invites distraction, and wastes human potential. Waiting disrupts smooth flow, which leads to poor quality and is usually not productive use of skilled employee abilities.

Not Utilizing Talent - Employees that are not effectively engaged in the process (Note: This is the 8th type of waste advocated by many Lean practitioners, but was not one of the original wastes)

See Waiting, above, but more importantly, consider that employees bring their brains to a process as well as their hands. No one knows the process better than those performing the work, and the best solutions often come from the people carrying out that work. In a mature lean manufacturing process, just as in a mature ergonomics process, employees are trained and encouraged to use their brains, not just their brawn.

    • Why not make the work easier and more interesting so that people do not have to sweat?  The Toyota style is not to create results by working hard. It is a system that says there is no limit to people’s creativity.  People don’t go to Toyota to ‘work’ they go there to ‘think’. Taiichi Ohno
    • The greatest waste … is failure to use the abilities of people…to learn about their frustrations and about the contributions that they are eager to make. W. Edwards Deming
Transportation - Transporting items or information that is not required to perform the process from one location to another.  Transportation can take the form of transferring things within a facility by carrying, carting, etc., or transferring things by truck, train, ship, etc. In either case, ergonomics plays a role in optimizing the transportation by minimizing risk exposure and error making. 
Inventory Excess - Inventory or information that is sitting idle (not being processed).  
Motion - People, information or equipment making unnecessary motion due to workspace layout, or searching for misplaced items. This is often the only connection to ergonomics recognized by some lean practitioners. 
Excess processing - Performing any activity that is not necessary to produce a functioning product or service.  

(https://goleansixsigma.com/8-wastes/)

 

Taiichi Ohno quotes:, 

  • The Toyota style is not to create results by working hard. It is a system that says there is no limit to people's creativity. People don't go to Toyota to 'work' they go there to 'think'. (http://www.azquotes.com/quote/905327)
  • “Why not make the work easier and more interesting so that people do not have to sweat?  The Toyota style is not to create results by working hard. It is a system that says there is no limit to people’s creativity.  People don’t go to Toyota to ‘work’ they go there to ‘think’” (http://www.newcastlesys.com/blog/bid/337009/lean-manufacturing-quotes-for-education-and-inspiration)
  • After all, manufacturing is essentially a human development that depends heavily on how we teach our workers. (http://www.shmula.com/taiichi-ohno-on-lean-leadership/9274/)
  • No goal, regardless of how small can be achieved without adequate training. (http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1411460)

Shigeo Shingo Quotes:

  • There are four purposes of improvement: easier, better, faster, and cheaper. These four goals appear in the order of priority. (http://www.azquotes.com/quote/731328)
  • Lean manufacturing is a way of thinking- not a list of things to do (http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1427995)

W. Edwards Demming quotes:

  • If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing. (http://www.azquotes.com/quote/75857)
  • ...a person and an organization must have goals, take actions to achieve those goals, gather evidence of achievement, study and reflect on the data and from that take actions again. Thus, they are in a continuous feedback spiral toward continuous improvement. This is what 'Kaizan' means. (http://www.azquotes.com/quote/906399)
  • Put a good person in a bad system and the bad system wins, no contest. (http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1346477)
  • It's not enough to do your best; you must know what to do & then do your best. (http://www.azquotes.com/quote/531803)
  • The greatest waste … is failure to use the abilities of people…to learn about their frustrations and about the contributions that they are eager to make. (http://www.azquotes.com/quote/725106)
  • Manage the cause, not the result. (http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1259658)