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by James Mallon, CPE

Now more than ever, today’s business leaders are making the necessary investments to drive continuous improvement throughout their organization. These leaders do so in order to reduce costs and waste, make better products faster, increase customer satisfaction, and therefore, become more profitable.

In manufacturing or industrial environments, engineering generally drives these improvement initiatives and, in my experience, the focus tends to be on machines and equipment performance, material flow, the order of operations, and the methods used. This view is incomplete. This view leaves out one very important component of the manufacturing system—the human.

When looking to optimize the performance of machines, for instance, we review their capabilities, requirements and limits. There is usually an operating manual or specifications and we follow them as we integrate the machine into the manufacturing system. If they begin to perform poorly, we recognize that it’s either time for maintenance, or we are asking them to do more then they are designed to – pushing them beyond their design limits.

Unfortunately, more often than not, we don’t apply this same data driven approach when integrating the human into the manufacturing system. Successful companies do. They understand that a machine cannot choose whether to come to work or not or how much effort exert, but a person can and will.

To better integrate the human into a manufacturing process, simply know the limits of human strength and movement, understand the perceptual preferences they have, and apply this knowledge to the design of machines, material flow, and methods. This cohesion will create work environments that fit the human and ultimately enhance their performance and the performance of the entire system