Operator Fatigue in a LEAN Cell

Over the past 10 years, PC Systems has progressively integrated LEAN manufacturing concepts into our production flow to reduce waste and provide a higher quality and more cost competitive product.  We have done this with customer guidance as well as internal expertise.

Our conversions from batch processing to single piece flow have yielded some of our biggest improvements and this is one of the characteristics of our company that we really like to “hang our hat” on.  Recently though, an operator brought it to management’s attention that operators were experiencing symptoms of fatigue as a result of working in one of our cells.  In particular, this operator complained of sore/stiff leg joints and dizziness.  The cycle time for the cell is between 20 seconds and a minute, depending on the operator.  This particular operator was making ~900 trips around the cell in a day.  This is one of our most productive operators, but even 600 cycles a day would be an impressive amount of twisting and turning through a day.  You can see a video of the cell here:

LEAN Cell Video

As a management team, we decided the concerns warranted more investigation.  My first instinct was to work in the cell myself for 8 hours to get a feel for the ergonomics of the job.  I have to report that the experience was not terrible, although I felt there were improvements that could be made.  I also spoke with each operator individually to try and pull as much information as possible.  Finally, I looked to my professional network and interestingly enough, I gathered some useful information via Social Networking via LinkedIn.  That discussion thread can be found here:

LinkedIn Discussion

We have decided to limit the time in the cell per operator to 4 hours at this time, while we continue to look for improvements.  Ultimately, it is our feeling that the more comfortable our operators are, the better the quality of the product will be.  We want our operators to take pride in the product they create, the facility they work in, and above all the company that they stand behind.

After reviewing the video, are there any suggestions that you feel would improve the ergonomics that you think we could have missed?  We realize our customer base has a tremendous amount of LEAN expertise, perhaps you would be willing to share some of your comments or best practices that could ultimately reduce your product cost.

Harness: This is not a garage shop…

If you have any experience with sourcing electrical interconnects, specifically wire harnesses, you are well aware there is a harness supplier on every corner. In my experience, there have been many enterprising individuals who have realized that their current employer could really use a good harness supplier, quit their jobs, and opened a shop up just down the road. What a great strategy! Due to the manual assembly of harnesses, the start-up capital is low an there is an instant customer base. Unfortunately, many of these suppliers keep their cost low by keeping overhead down and essentially running a garage shop (right beside the drum kit). This is not how PC Systems got into the Harness business and we are definitely not a garage shop. Consequently, none of us have ever had a garage band either.

PC Systems is an ISO 9001:2008 registered supplier. We have a quality system that goes above and beyond the requirements of ISO, particularly because we use the same quality processes in our Harness department as we do for our Automotive Flex Term departments. Our system is much closer to the requirements for TS 16949 and currently we are looking into becoming registered for ISO 13485. All harnesses are built on harness layout boards and tested 100% (typically 2 or 3 times) before they land in a box.

Is that what differentiates us in the eyes of our customers? Probably not, unless you are the SQE or Quality Manager. So then, why should a customer select PC Systems for harness work? There are many reasons, but I want to focus on one, over-braid capability.

A braided harness provides many benefits when compared to taping and/or split loom. It is more aesthetically pleasing because it is a custom finish and can be colored multiple ways per customer specification. It provides superior abrasion resistance because it will not unravel or move. Finally, one cannot tamper with the harness without there being evidence showing on the braid. This is particularly important in Military applications.

I don’t want to assume that everyone knows what I am referring to when I say “braid”. Here is a harness that we produce that is over-braided:

You may say, that doesn’t look that special, how does PC Systems differentiate themselves with braiding? The interesting thing about harness braiding is that it is done with machines that are only produced by a small number of manufacturers, specifically the NE Butt Co./Wardwell lineage. Ultimately, there are a limited amount of these machines available for purchase, so the machines that we have here at PC Systems are very valuable to us and our customers. We have found in the past that even some Harness suppliers look to outsource their over-braiding due to the inability to do it themselves.

I could go on and on about why I think that our harnesses are a superior product when compared to some of the others in the field, but in the spirit of concise communication, I will cut myself off here. If you think that we may be able to help you out with a harness or outsourced over-braiding, I invite you to contact us so we can talk further!