ERGONOMIC NIGHTMARE?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we found a way to increase throughput at one of our machines, but the result was a rather uncomfortable working position.  Let’s take a look at the workstation and what our thought process was for improvement.

A little explanation goes a long way here.  The chair that the operator sits on is in the bottom right corner.  Most of the work is completed on the machinery on the table, centered in the photo.  Two foot pedals on the ground run the air cylinders to run the equipment.  Finally, a box of raw material is located to the left of the operator and a box of finished goods is located to the right of the operator.

I have to add, this workstation looks rather archaic.  It is probably one of the oldest pieces of equipment in the plant, but it is very effective at completing the task it was designed for.

Where are the pain points?

1) Height – The chair isn’t adjustable for height.  Also, you can see an operator added a pad.  Sitting on a hard wooden seat for four hours is uncomfortable for anyone.

2) Seating Position – See that foot pedal, there is another one to the right.  The operator has to straddle the leg of the table so that he/she can get close enough to the equipment to do their job.

3) Twisting – The orientation of the boxes and the tooling requires the operator to do a considerable amount of twisting while seated.

4) Reach – The operator can’t get their legs up under the table due to the bracing.  This forces them to reach to do their job.

After soliciting some ideas from the operators, we came up with some ideas that would help address many of the issues above.  Most of the suggestions hinged around moving the leg of the table so that the operator was free to move their legs under.

We gave our Facilities Manager the green light to start cutting and welding and I think he did a spectacular job.  Here is the result:

It doesn’t look like much, but this small change made a world of difference.  Here is a summary of the improvements:

1) Height – Although not shown here, we are providing the operators with a padded adjustable height chair that allows them to rotate if needed.

2) Seating Position – We re-oriented some of the tooling to allow the operators to sit square to the table.  Their legs can be placed under the table without causing discomfort.  The foot pedals can be moved to a position that is most comfortable for the operator.

3) Twisting – As indicated above, we moved the tooling which eliminated most of the twisting.  With the new position, we can put the raw and finished good boxes to the side of the operator so that they only need to reach down to grab a part, rather than twisting and reaching outward.

4) Reach – Moving the leg and brace on the table allowed the operator to move closer to the table, making the reaching distance much more manageable.

I think this is an excellent example of a simple solution that will pay significant dividends for both PCS and our customers.  It may not be our most impressive machine with a bunch of bells and whistles (we have those as well), but this is a machine that is going to affect the bottom line for both of us!  This improvement (and others like it) are what helps us to manage our costs and provide product at the pricing levels that our customers expect.

We are not finished with the improvements at this workstation, but we are going to use this setup for a couple of months and then evaluate the feedback we receive.  Is there anything that you think that we missed?

FOIL CONNECTORS FOR REDUCED THICKNESS

Customer: “I need a harness to connect this widget to this gizmo.  The catch is, it needs to handle between 15 and 20 amps and can’t be more than 0.010” thick.  Oh yeah, it must be electrically isolated.  What are my options?”

We get this question occasionally, typically from auto glass manufacturers supplying to the European market, but also from Heavy Equipment glass manufacturers as well.  Typically, in this scenario you have two options, the first being a flex circuit which I have discussed in the past, or two being a “foil” connector which is a relatively unknown product outside of auto glass circles.  The lack of use elsewhere is really unfortunate because it could be used as a low cost design solution in many different places.

What is “foil”?

First, I would like for you to take a look at a couple of our products that use “foil” as a conductor for reference.

Next, we will take a look at the typical construction of this type of connector.

1) We start with a bare copper or tin plated copper foil conductor.  Standard thickness is 0.1mm and standard widths are 6.25mm, 15mm and 17mm.  Other widths and thicknesses are available depending on application, but using these standards allows us to control cost.

2) The foil conductor is then encapsulated with an insulating tape.  As a standard, black or natural (amber) polyimide film is used (Kapton), but other options are available.  The width is usually 3-4mm wider than the foil conductor.

3) Double sided tape can be applied to assist in final assembly.  Tapes that we use include 3M 9473 and TESA 4972, but once again, other options are available.  A die cut pull tab can be added to really make this a valuable addition.

4) The foil is prepared so that it can be mated with a harness of some kind.  This can include an environmentally sealed plastic overmold to round wire or termination, a tab of reflowed and fluxed solder, a termination directly on the foil with housing, a stamped hole, etc. depending on application.

The design discussion can obviously be much more technical, especially with regards to material selection and current capacity.   This post is meant only to be an idea generator, if you have a problem that you think this may solve, call us and lets talk about it in more detail.

If you have an application that has size constraints, I think the advantage is clear when it comes to using “foil”.  It is often assumed that there will be a significant premium to be paid for this option, but that is the beauty in the solution.  Given the popularity of this type of product in European automobiles, there is already an established supply base.  Cost can easily be controlled by using standard materials which are produced on automated equipment.