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.