By JOSHUA CLIFTON, editor of the
CTDNews--Workplace Solutions for Repetitive Stress Injuries newsletter, in which these stories originally appeared
Often the work safety argument is couched as the dichotomy between people and technology, with one always being more important than the other in producing results. But as the examples of Ford and Honda demonstrate, the answer is in the middle. You need both to succeed.
Sometimes, the best health and safety innovations come from your own employees. That's what management from Honda of America Manufacturing Inc.'s facility in Anna, Ohio learned when a group of its employees created a solution to reduce pushing and pulling risk hazards.
The company was recently awarded the 2008 Ergo Cup for engineering. The award, which is sponsored by the Ergonomics Center of North Carolina, celebrates problem solving efforts conducted by in-house engineers and ergonomists.
Brent Rankin, engineering coordinator at the plant, says the division was presented with the challenge of reducing push-pull forces found in carts that are used for transporting parts from the materials service department to the assembly line. Employees transport between 1,100 and 2,200 pounds of materials on these carts. The force used to get the carts moving placed employees at a significant risk of back injuries, he says.
"I think many industries have this problem," Rankin says. "We had looked at a variety of wheels and we thought that we had found the best caster we could use. However, we still had to overcome the initial inertia. Once you got the cart moving, it would roll fine."
Rankin says the engineering and ergonomics team examined a variety of approaches, including hydraulics and mechanical levers, to get the cart moving. However, the group settled on a different method.
"The cleanest and safest way we found to overcome the initial inertia was with a small electrical motor that we made in-house," he says.
The solution was comprised of three components--a drive motor unit, a small control box that was bolted to the cart and a switch to activate the motor.
"The motor is energized just long enough to get the cart up to speed," Rankin says. "Once that is done, the motor disengages and the cart becomes freewheeling. It takes very little power to get it moving."
The team designed the prototype in-house, did the testing and all of the development. The motors are now produced outside the facility.
Rankin says teamwork was critical to reaching the final solution to the problem.
"The team was just not engineers," he says. "We had a group of associates on the line that took interest and wanted to solve the problem. We got together as a group and came up with a lot of different ideas. It is an ongoing process. This is one way our associates are very engaged in the ergonomics process."
Jose Banaag, staff engineer and head ergonomist with Honda's safety and health services department, says the teamwork approach is essential to the company's overall philosophy on ergonomics.
"Ergonomics is nothing new at Honda," he says. "However, in the 1980s we were reactive. We saw problems and would try to find counter measures. We discovered that we couldn't keep up and decided to make it an ergo culture. There is not enough ergo expertise in the world to solve all the problems. We must take a multi-pronged approach, be proactive and involve all employees in the process."
The company has even created its own internal ergonomic awards program. Employees are asked to submit ideas and a group of judges selects the winning teams, which represent Honda at the Ergo Cup competition.
"We thought this would be a great opportunity to get associates involved," Banaag says. "It creates a forum where employees can generate ideas."
Training is one of the core components of any health and safety program. However, it is particularly important to focus on new employees to ensure they start off on the right foot and are equipped with the knowledge to stay safe on the job.
For its focus on these workers, Honda of America Manufacturing's facility in East Liberty, Ohio was recently awarded with the 2008 Ergo Cup for training and education.
Anthony Blackburn, a member of the production staff safety group at the facility, says Honda had some safety concerns about its training program for new hires and recently transferred workers.
"We looked at the current orientation program and it was only five days with no work hardening and minimal job simulation," he says. "We wanted to design a program that would build 'industrial athletes.'"
The safety group worked with Honda's in-house wellness center and medical personnel to put together a team to address the issue. The team decided to add an additional five days to the orientation program, which included a variety of wellness activities, equipment training methods and class training exercises.
"It is designed to help these workers slowly acclimate to the line," Blackburn says.
The first day of the orientation program consists of classroom training. In addition, new employees are evaluated in several areas, including hand-eye coordination, physical condition, etc. Blackburn says the evaluation helps the company identify a starting point of where to place the employee on the line.
For the remainder of the orientation program, each new employee's day is split into quarters--75 percent of the day alternating between performing tasks on and off the assembly line and 25 percent spent on physical conditioning.
"Every day during the orientation period, new employees spend the last part of their day in the in-house wellness center, where they perform physical conditioning exercises, such as cardio training and stretches," Blackburn says. "This really helps workers better prepare for their environment."
Blackburn says the feedback from new employees has been very positive. "We've also seen a decrease in injuries among these employees," he says.
Ford Motor Co. recently unveiled its virtual manufacturing technologies that the vehicle giant says have played a major role in the company's improving quality performance and falling injury rates.
At a recent manufacturing symposium, Ford displayed its advanced motion capture technology, which is commonly used in animated movies and digital games. The technology is combined with human modeling software to design jobs that are less physically stressful on workers.
"The benefits are fewer injuries, lower cost of tooling changes, higher quality and faster time to market," says Allison Stephens, ergonomics technical specialist with the company's vehicle operations manufacturing engineering division. "We're seeing improvement in every one of those metrics and our virtual technology is a factor."
Ford has been advancing its approach to digital ergonomics work since it began using virtual tools to improve ergonomics in 2000. The company is collaborating with the University of Michigan as part of a technology consortium as well as participating in the Virtual Soldier Research program with the U.S. Department of Defense and the University of Iowa.
"Among the project objects are to predict the ergonomic impact of long-term repetitive motions and to better predict complex human motions," Stephens says.
At the Siemens PLM Software Digital Manufacturing Symposium, Stephens demonstrated the ergo technology in a virtual assembly plant. Ford's virtual manufacturing process begins by applying product specifications to the manufacturing plant to create a computer-generated virtual assembly line. An engineer, outfitted with a special harness and gloves, performs an assembly operation exactly as the plant operator would on the line.
The engineer uses the virtual tools to help guide his or her movements. Production parts are represented by physical props. A head-mounted display can also be used when three-dimensional viewing is required, such as when placing a part inside of a vehicle body.
Stephens says the operator's actions are then captured by sophisticated cameras that track the movement of sensors on the harness, gloves and head-mounted display. In addition to movements, the engineer's size is captured and loaded into a computer program, redrawn as a digital employee--an avatar called Jack--and displayed on a large screen. Human modeling software then determines the ergonomic and quality impact on the assembly line work. Changes can be made quickly and efficiently to the vehicle or part design to avoid adverse impact.
"With this technology, our digital employees--Jack and Jill--are helping us predict the ergonomic effect of long-term repetitive motions," says Stephens. "The impact on health and safety metrics, as well as on quality, has been tremendous. This is helping us strengthen our leadership position in virtual manufacturing for assembly ergonomics and resulting in higher quality vehicles."
Stephens says the key is to use the advanced ergonomic design tools early in a vehicle program before building prototypes. In fact, Ford has integrated ergonomic requirements into product design specifications and customer quality checks.
As a part of the company's product development, the ergonomic data are handed off to the Virtual Build Arena, where the program team--including designers, engineers, suppliers and line operators--assemble the vehicle part by part, virtually.
Stephens says this happens long before the first physical parts are produced and a prototype vehicle is built. In fact, the virtual build event takes place before Ford and its suppliers install tooling and set up workstations.
In the virtual build event, Jack and Jill assemble the vehicle part-by-part on a wall-sized computer screen as the program team scrutinizes the vehicle's manufacturing feasibility--how well the parts go together in the assigned sequence and at the specific plant where the vehicle is to be produced.
"The impact on cost-savings and quality improvement is significant," says Cheryl Bruins-Rozier, virtual build manager at Ford.
Bruins-Rozier says the technology contributed to high-quality, early builds of the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKS, both of which are launching this summer. In each case, the vehicle reached the prototype build stage with 80 percent fewer manufacturing feasibility issues.
"The goal of our virtual manufacturing tools is to drive compatibility between the product design and the assembly plant process," says Dan Hettel, chief engineer of vehicle operations at Ford. "We validate each assembly process virtually to ensure that it can be completed with quality. The quality results of our recent launches show that the virtual process is working."
For more information on the program, visit the company's Web site at http://media.ford.com.
ERGO DAYS AWARENESS
In addition to the Ford Motor Co.'s virtual building program, the company also hosts Ergo Days. The event, which was developed at the company's Chicago assembly plant in 2000, targets ergonomic injuries by helping design engineers learn more about the risks of musculoskeletal disorders at Ford's plants.
During Ergo Days, engineers spend time on the assembly line in jobs that present the highest levels of ergonomic risks to gain hands-on experience into the safety challenges of job tasks. Engineers are then asked to take their experiences and apply them to future plant and work process designs.
Awareness training events like these are essential to the success of any workplace ergonomics program. It's not enough for a part of the organization to be involved and know about the ergonomics change effort. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the entire workforce needs to know and be involved in some manner.
A kick-off celebration can be used to announce a "new day" and seek buy-in for any new procedures and programs. That can be augmented by a brown bag lunch seminar to discuss the new program. Games to make training more exciting and creation of a rewards system for employees who play an active role in the program can also help.
October 15, 2008
Copyright 2008© LRP Publications