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Creating a Standard Lean Workstation in a Low Volume, High Mix Industry

When a team of craftsmen come together to discuss their needs for a standard workbench, you can imagine the struggle this can be for a team who is just starting on their Lean journey. There is plenty of theory and principles of lean workstation design and layout (see “Lean Workstations: Organised for Productivity” ), considering ergonomics, Takt time and range of motion. These elements are important when you are in a highly repetitive, low takt time processes.

Our craftsmen work in a very different industry – one where the workload is low in volume, with a high mix of different components, and with highly skilled workforce.  In these low volume, high mix industries, while the basics of workstation design must be covered, the most important ingredient is team participation in setting up the new work spaces. Companies with highly skilled workforce, especially more traditional craftsmen, have individualised work practices and, therefore, workstations. Designing a standard workstation is one of the first steps towards developing work standards.

standard lean workstation with good practical 5S

 Three Steps for Creating a Standard Lean Workstation in a Low Volume, High Mix Industry

 Step One – Get your team involved

Craftsmen and tradesmen are used to, and expect, a high level of autonomy over their working day. They need to be involved in discussing options and requirements for organising their work spaces. These discussions need to be focussed to ensure they don’t become a list of part issues and problems. A Lean facilitator or person from outside the team, and respected by the team, may need to act as “the grown-up” – listening to all ideas and input, encouraging a consensus and then defining the tasks to be completed to mock up or trial elements of the standard workstation.

 Step two – Be safe and flexible

Safety is an important element when trialling and mocking up workstations. Involve your OH&S people to make sure benches and fixtures are strong enough to support a range of components. If it is only a mock up, make sure it is clearly marked as “Not for Production” so that it doesn’t get caught up in the everyday business. When trailing different workstation elements, have a few team members trial the workstations for a few hours or days, to make sure the new design will work well for different heights and work methods. What may appear okay when standing around, actually using the workstation over a few hours or jobs will provide a different view of it’s effectiveness and usefulness.

Flexible workstations are also important when creating a standard lean workstation in a low volume, high mix industry. With your team, discuss a range of typical scenarios that your area may face over the next few months. If there are a few examples of extremely large or tiny components, consider how big a problem will these extreme variations occur; does this need to be built into every workstation? Or can we create a special location for these particular types of jobs? If it’s very rare, can we “make do” when, and if, those types of jobs need to be completed?

 Step three – Trial, review and standardise

Once the key elements of the new workstations have been agreed upon, roll them out quickly so the ideas and enthusiasm doesn’t go stale. Embed a review process into every morning meeting, checking that workstations will suit the  team and workload for the day ahead. If any safely concerns are raise, these need to be addressed immediately. Work arounds may be needed to ensure the safely of your team and the quality of the products aren’t compromised.

Use 5S standards to set practical expectations for layout and cleanliness for the workstations for everyone in your team. Remind your team that while you are trialling and reviewing the new workstations, these 5S Standards are simply the “current standard” not necessarily the final one.

 team members organise their workspace in inovatitive ways

Our craftsmen are happy for now; they had input into the new standard, Lean workstation design. The trials allowed everyone to have some input into the final format and layout that was agreed upon. Creating practical 5S standard helped to reinforce the new approach while getting used to the changes that were made.