Manual workstations

Optimum ergonomics and efficiency for manual workstations

The laboratory technology provider Thermo Fisher Scientific has developed an ergonomically designed production line for the manual assembly of a new model series of incubators. Apart from the health-conscious workstation design, the priority is on process and product quality. Time and cost arguments follow only in second place.

The new "Heracell Vios" incubators are intended for medical engineering and health research, where they are used for cultivating human and animal cells. Target customers are universities, research laboratories and the industry. Numerous variants for different applications are assembled in the plant at Langenselbold near Frankfurt, where Thermo Fisher Scientific has consolidated its laboratory equipment production. Apart from two sizes with 160 and 240 litres of useful space, bactericidal and fungicidal models of copper are available in addition to incubators with a stainless steel inner container, and the portfolio also includes incubators for different gases and with varying sensor technology.

The new incubator is the successor of the successful model "Heracell" of which 75,000 units were sold in 15 years. The new series was launched in September 2014 and is distinct by its optimised control behaviour, improved protection against contamination and facilitated operation. According to Thermo Fisher, the company is the global market leader in the product field.

Thermofisher: manual workstations
Thermo Fisher Scientific Production Resources Engineer Stefan Kämmerer, Manfred Parr of ROEMHELD and Production Head Felix Pergande, also Thermo Fisher Scientific (from left to right, photograph:) ROEMHELD).

About Thermo Fisher Scientific:

According to Thermo Fisher Scientific, the company with 55,000 employees worldwide and group sales of $ 17 billion is one of the world's largest provider of laboratory and analysis technology. The company headquarters are located in Waltham near Boston, Massachusetts.

Assembly workstations: from the prototype to the production line

In order to prepare production of the new incubator, Felix Pergande, Technical Head of Production for Thermo Fisher Scientific in Langenselbold, and Production Resources Engineer Stefan Kämmerer first developed a prototype of the assembly workstation in 2013. Subsequently, they used this do developed a new series production line which resulted in a "start-up plant" in September 2014. Pergande explains what this means: "During this period of about half a year, we have the overall responsibility for the incubator production, from organization and material procurement through to quality assurance. We industrialise production in this time. As soon as it is well engineered, we hand it over to the responsible people in the Incubator department.

The focus is on ergonomics

Pergande is very satisfied with the cooperation: "ROEMHELD's consultation quality is extremely high, they intensely and dedicatedly respond to our individual requirements. In addition, their products are very reliable and can be configured according to our requirements - we do not have to buy anything ready-made."

As regards the conception of the new manual assembly workstation, ergonomics were of particular significance to Production Resources Engineer Stefan Kämmerer. For the earlier incubator series had indeed been assembled on heigh-adjustable tables, but the units with a weight of around twenty kilogrammes had to be moved manually without any auxiliary equipment. "For this reason, preassembly of the inner containers required a lot of handling and was physically more demanding", says Kämmerer. This had to be improved for the production of the new series.

The inside casing which is open to the front has a height of approx. 700 mm and a width of 450 mm for the 160-litre incubator type and is manufactured in Thermo Fisher's own sheet workshop. In preassembly, an employee covers all five sides with heater foils; for this purpose, the container has to be rotated several times. Apart from this, a sensor and a fixture have to be mounted. The entire process takes about 45 minutes; subsequently, insulation is attached and the outside casing is assembled over it. The site in Langenselbold has around 150 assembly employees, of whom eight are assigned to the manufacture of incubators, in one or two shifts as required.

Assembly line with four manual workstations

With the support of Manfred Parr, ROEMHELD Assembly Technology Product Manager, Kämmerer and Pergande designed a line of four similar assembly workstations arranged successively. Two of them are suitable for the assembly of the larger incubator models. All workstations comprise an electronic Shop-Floor lift module with a stroke of 200 mm, which can be lifted and lowered by a pushbutton, and a rotary module. This rotary module is provided with indexations which may be released manually in steps of 45°; for this purpose, the fitter can use two foot switches without having to walk around the longitudinally arranged container. "The prototype of the assembly workstations had only one foot switch. In order to be able to work more efficiently, the fitters had the idea of a second foot switch; this suggestion could rapidly be implemented by ROEMHELD", Kämmerer remembers. After the design of the assembly workstations was completed, he ordered the components from ROEMHELD and assembled them. For the purpose of preserving the surfaces during work, he also developed a clamping device provided with brushes on the bearing surfaces.

All parties involved are satisfied with the result of the workstation design. Technical Head Felix Pergande emphasizes the excellent ergonomics and sees an evident improvement in product quality: "The clear position fixation and the defined handling by means of the 45° indexations noticeably reduced the risk of dents in the container." According to him, time saving as frequently experienced after the optimization of other assembly workstations is irrelevant in this case. Reduced cost are not calculated, either. However, he emphasizes that the ergonomic design of the workstations contribute to protecting the employees' health and that "the absence of an employee costs money, because either we cannot produce or we have to assign a replacement." As a consequence, less rejects and healthier employees contribute to cost savings and enhance Thermo Fisher's success as market leader. 

Designing other manual workstations as ergonomically and efficiently as possible

The preassembly staff also has positive things to say. Equipment fitter Steffen Hillesheim compliments: "An ergonomic workstation with useful features like this is invaluable. It is good for the back, neck, and shoulders and is a noticeable relief. The body feels it immediately." Hillesheim knows what he is talking about, since he has been working for Thermo Fisher for a few weeks only and says he has gained a lot of experience on assembly workstations not complying with the latest occupational health and safety regulations.

Thermo Fisher Scientific intends to improve other single workstations and entire lines under lean manufacturing aspects in the future, says Pergande: "This will also include the analysis of handling aspects. Since it is frequently inefficient to reduce wage cost by automation, we want to design our manual workstations as ergonomically and efficiently as possible. The standard interface conception of the modulog programme is very helpful in this regard, because it allows for the flexible and uncomplicated planning of future workstations.

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