Every employee is different, and ergonomics take this into consideration – something that is seen particularly clearly in the work bench handling area.
People are now increasingly working from home. More than ever, this makes ergonomics a key aspect of discussions relating to modern working practices. Basically speaking, ergonomics combines protecting the health of employees with process optimization. Marius Geibel, an ergonomics expert at item, sums up how ergonomics boosts the efficiency of industrial work benches as follows: “Ergonomics helps companies to retain their workforce for the long term and find effective solutions for dealing with the demographic changes that are causing so much debate. Employees benefit from better health and companies benefit from better efficiency. It’s a win-win situation.” Workplace design based on ergonomic principles goes beyond office desks – it’s particularly important in manual production. Failure to keep the tools and materials that are required for assembly within easy reach inevitably results in uneven strain and unnecessary movements. This, in turn, quickly leads to staff having to take sick leave. Flexible adjustment is an absolute must when designing an ergonomic assembly work bench. Only then can employees realize their full potential. The handling area concept and a specific application scenario clearly demonstrate the importance of the flexibility factor.
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What is the work bench handling area and how can it be used to optimum effect?
The handling area is the part of a work bench where staff can reach every point vertically or horizontally with one or both hands, without having to move out of their sitting or standing position. It consists of three zones. The one-handed zone is located directly in front of the employee. As its name suggests, everything is within reach using one hand. It is advisable to position tools and materials that are required regularly in this zone to avoid awkward twisting of the body. The extended one-handed zone, on the other hand, should be used for materials, tools and supplies that are needed less often. This zone is the outermost part of the handling area, so no working materials, tools or supplies that are important for the work process should be located beyond it. The two-handed zone in the handling area is intended for carrying out the actual work process. In this zone, staff have both hands in their direct field of vision. Alternatively, the work bench handling area can be divided into an outer and inner handling area. Whereas the outer handling area can only be reached using an outstretched arm (with a relaxed posture), the inner handling area can be reached with arms bent.
The handling area concept thus highlights the relevance of an ergonomic work bench in assembly operations. Since no two people are exactly the same size or shape, this also applies to handling areas. Accordingly, assembly work benches should be designed so that they can adapt easily to the relevant requirements. The item Work Bench System includes a wide range of components for ergonomic material and tool supply. Pivot Arms are especially useful in this regard. They are fitted with everything from Parts Containers for supplying small parts and Trays (for crates, workpieces and tools) to Hooks, Holders and Containers for stowing tools. End-to-end modularity means everything fits together perfectly. Pivot Arms can be used to gear the positions of materials and tools precisely to the specific handling area, which places less strain on the back and improves efficiency. Before starting work, staff adjust the Pivot Arms so that objects they use regularly are in the one-handed zone.
Work bench ergonomics and handling area optimization at SIKO GmbH
SIKO GmbH is a prime example of just how effective ergonomic work bench design in production and correct use of the handling area can be. Founded in Buchenbach in 1963, this German company specializes in manufacturing measurement and drive technology. When a new production facility was required for capacity reasons, the company decided to work closely with item and Deutsche MTM-Gesellschaft Industrie- und Wirtschaftsberatung mbH. Precise planning of assembly and logistics operations was possible based on the MTM method (MTM = Methods-Time Measurement) and the Ergonomic Assessment Work Sheet (EAWS), with the two areas being kept separate. The MTM method breaks down all manual movements into a series of basic motions, so they can be described, analyzed, evaluated and planned. The EAWS can be used to analyze the physical strain on staff in advance and thus take steps to avoid this. The modular item Work Bench System proved to be the perfect solution. It was used to create all ergonomic work benches for manual operations at the new facility in Bad Krozingen, and SIKO is using item SystemMobiles to transport materials.
The electrically height-adjustable ergonomic work benches enable dynamic switching between sitting and standing, which is a targeted measure for avoiding strain on the musculoskeletal system. Individual height settings can be stored and selected to suit the person working at the bench – when changing shifts, for instance. The large selection of standard components and accessories, flexible screw fixings and superstructures for versatile tool and material supply make the ergonomic work benches easy to implement and modify. The staff at SIKO were involved at an early stage in all planned changes, with particular attention being paid to defining an optimum horizontal handling area. A handling area template designed to the latest standards was used for this purpose. Besides the handling area itself, this also factors in fields of vision. The direct visual field is the area that can be viewed at the same time without having to move the head or eyes. In the case of the visual field with eye movement, on the other hand, the head remains still, but the eyes are moving. Last but not least, the visual field with head and eye movement covers the area that can be viewed with maximum movement of the head and eyes while keeping the rest of the body still. Overall, the various optimization measures have boosted SIKO’s productivity by 18 percent.
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