Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Use the Right Workbench for the Job

The most common and most overlooked element found at almost every workstation in your plant is the workbench. As you kaizen your work areas, take a close look at the workbenches. Most are standard catalogue items ranging from 30 x 60 inches to 36 x 72 inches. It seems that most workbench manufacturers have the classic one size fits all offering. High end workbench manufacturers promote the latest designs from their ergonomic advantages to multi-functional capabilities. But they all fail to promote lean by providing the smallest footprint possible.

Now take a closer look at the tasks performed at the workstation. In examining the tasks, check if the task requirements match the workbench size. In almost all cases, the current workbench size is incorrect. The task requirements should always dictate the space required for a workbench, not the other way around.

In determining the correct workbench size following basic lean manufacturing principles, attempt to provide the minimum amount of bench surface with the minimum amount of stock. Use common sense and experimentation to determine the appropriate stock level that works in your specific task. Also experiment with different size workbenches by building prototypes out of two by fours and plywood first. The employees at each station can provide valuable input about improvements and specific requirements of the workbench for each task area. Remember they are the local experts!

Once the acceptable workbench size is determined, be prepared to custom build it to those specifications. Use a low cost custom workbench approach that can be built in-house. PVC tubes, garage racks, and home improvement items can be useful in the design. Other design considerations may include adding casters for mobility in rapid layout changes and eliminating drawer/excessive shelves to remove clutter.

After the custom sized workbench is successfully placed in production, I have found that at least a 50% floor space reduction can be obtained over conventional, standard workbenches.

1 comment:

Mark Graban said...

I agree, this is a huge waste of space in most factories. Large benches contribute to many sins and types of waste -- allowing WIP to accumulate, working in batches, piling up raw material and keeping tools disorganized, etc.

A modular construction product called Creform is excellent for building your own custom-sized benches. www.creform.com is their website. I've used it in the past and highly recommend it for ease of building with it. The material is used widely by Toyota and within the auto industry for building flow racks, carts, benches, etc. My old manager, who learned under the Danaher lean system and Shingujitsu, had a rough guideline that a bench should only be 2-3x bigger than a single piece of the material you're working on. That was always an eye opening stretch goal for people during kaizen events!