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Ergonomics 101 in plant expansion

"Around 60 percent of factory payroll and indirect labor is involved with materials handling"

warehouse and facility design
  • By Hal Ettinger, used with permission

When planning expansion, companies should project the demands on space that new technology will place upon them. Production areas should be built with flexibility in mind because the trend is toward equipment that will reduce labor intensity, but require room for its operation.

Steve Rudiger, production manager for the Mennonite Press in Newton, KS shivers at the thought of the way it used to be: "Before, we had our materials stored in a building outside and had to hustle them through the alley. Of course, if the weather was bad, we had all kinds of problems."

Mennonite has been in its new home since September 1986. "Everybody in the plant has really been happy that they've had a facility like this," Rudiger says. "The morale is up and people are positive about coming to work."

A plant redesign involving layout and equipment locations can redouble productivity by streamlining employees' jobs and enlivening their attitudes. Materials handling, the physical requirements for adding equipment and growth projections, are vital components for successful facility expansion.

Ergonomics as a facility design consideration

Ergonomics has not been a prime plant design consideration for many industries in the past, but that is changing as companies discover that ergonomic design is also productive design.

A design based on the premise that everything in a workstation should be within reach of the operator is the most efficient use of the floor area, but also the most efficient use of the people. Workers don't have to take any steps to be in touch with anything they want.

A plant should be designed so the product will flow without causing workers to backtrack. When there are sufficient storage areas for the product (work in process) as it moves through printing and finishing operations, all of the extra handling will be greatly reduced.

Improve productivity by arrangement

"When you consider that around 60 percent of the factory payroll and indirect labor is involved with materials handling, you can certainly improve productivity by arranging departments in a good way," said Rudiger. Unskilled laborers moving materials drain dollars that could be paid to higher skilled technicians or others involved in more profitable areas of an operation.

This is where planning comes in. Plant expansion should be tailored toward projected growth.

When planning expansion, companies should project the demands on space that new technology will place upon them. Production areas should be built with flexibility in mind because the trend is toward equipment that will reduce labor intensity, but require room for its operation. However, the complexity of some of this equipment requires stringent heating, ventilation and air conditioning capabilities, which translates to a certain amount of mechanical foresight.

Aside from all of these measurable kinds of considerations, though, companies should not neglect the people factor. The lighting, use of building materials and even the color scheme in the working environment can, and does, influence productivity.