When you enter the Miele appliance assembly factory in Gütersloh, it quickly becomes clear that ergonomic design at the work stations is part of the company’s culture. You are immediately struck by the suspended chairs with tool receptacles and the auxiliary materials that are available, height-adjustable tables and platforms, optimized material supplies to prevent any movement or twisting of the upper body and to reduce the weight loads – and screwdriver guides to prevent static retention forces and pressure on people’s joints. Miele is not satisfied with what it has achieved in the past, in line with the company principle of “Forever better,” which the Miele company founders coined. The work processes are being designed with new methods to make them easy to learn and suitable for people as they grow older. The physical and psychological pressures should be reduced to a minimum, employees should be motivated to work in a way that promotes their health and be involved in shaping their work processes. In order to reach these goals, the EAWS ergonomics tool (Ergonomic Assessment Work Sheet) is being used to assess biomechanical stresses and strains at work stations.
The factory is the home base of Miele & Cie. KG. Since it was founded in 1899, the company has continued to be owned by the Miele and Zinkann families and the fourth generation is now managing the business. The firm operates in two strategic business fields: The “domestic appliances” division produces and sells electric machines for kitchens and washing clothes and caring for floors; the “professional” division covers laundry machinery and dish washers for commercial use and automatic cleaning, disinfection and sterilization machines for medical and laboratory environments. Miele employs about 17,000 people around the globe, 10,300 of them in Germany. The company generated sales of approx. EUR 3.04 billion in the 2011/2012 business year, EUR 912 million of this figure in Germany.
Ergonomics and prevention as a matter of course
“Paying attention to ergonomics and prevention has become part of the company’s culture, as a result of years of intensive support, extensive further training opportunities, the many opportunities for people to participate in schemes and the high degree of motivation in the members of staff. This culture is anchored in the subconscious mind and is lived out as a matter of course,” says Matthias Wartig, Head of Series Production Preparation Work at the appliance factory in Gütersloh. “But only what is measured can be improved!” he says, explaining the motivation for anchoring EAWS as a method in the “Miele success system (MES).”
The employees are the foundation
For this reason, the company managers have stated that their employees are the foundation of the MES. “So the maintenance and constant improvement of the foundation is extremely important in order to guarantee the constant development of innovative technologies and high-quality products, safeguard the process and product quality and make available efficient production processes,” they say. An ergonomic design for work stations is becoming more and more important in the light of demographic developments and longer working lives, particularly at the appliance factory where the average age of the 2,300 employees is about 45. “It’s very important for us that our core workers remain with the company for many years in order to be able to guarantee the high quality of our premium products,” Wartig says.
“We’ve not yet assessed the effects of pressure throughout a working day or a working week. We’re now in a better position to do so with EAWS.”
Matthias Wartig, Head of Series Production Preparation Work at the appliance factory
More than a momentary glance
“It’s anchored in our subconscious mind and is lived out as a matter of course when work stations are being designed or when heavy parts are being moved with handling equipment – and the designer pays attention to the fact that the components are easy to assemble too,” Wartig continues. “If problems occur, the employees inform us. That has always been the case here. The problem was identified, solutions were found and introduced and that was that. But nothing was measured in the old days: neither the old nor the improved situation. So we want to change this and we’re just starting to do so. In the past, all we did was take a momentary glance; but we didn’t analyze the effects of pressure on people throughout a working day or a working week. We’re now in a better position to do so with EAWS.”
Concept for ergonomics and prevention
The following are all part of the overall concept for ergonomics and prevention at Miele:
- the idea of introducing “Ergonomics action days” where the company promotes the employees’ own responsibility for both physical and mental fitness and behavioral ergonomics
- the many prevention options for promoting health provided by the Miele company health insurance scheme
- the field of health and safety at work, which is also actively involved in the ergonomic analyses
- ideas management
- the company doctor, who is particularly important when ideas are exchanged with managers and specialist personnel. Physical and psychological problems may also be caused by work systems that need to be optimized; as a result, for example, any indication during an inspection that greater pressure is being created in the shoulder area at a work station will trigger an analysis without encroaching on a doctor’s duty to maintain secrecy.
- the Miele further training program, which also offers EAWS seminars.
Industrial engineering has the greatest and most direct effect on ergonomics and prevention. “We’ve been successfully analyzing and optimizing work methods with MTM for many years. Our focus has not just been on the target time, but also on the level of efficiency. We’re now building on this foundation by assessing the ergonomics with EAWS on the basis of the MTM analyses. The aim is to find an ideal relationship between ergonomics/prevention and efficiency, because an increase in efficiency doesn’t always automatically create an improvement in terms of ergonomics,” Wartig explains.
Standard for assessment and visualization
The company has now developed a six-stage approach for standardizing the assessment and visualization of ergonomic risks:
- Stage 1: Design work that is suitable for production with ProKon and CAVE systems (CAVE: Computer Aided Virtual Environment; performing virtual assembly work for new products in CAVE with experienced personnel from the industrial engineering, assembly and design departments, and therefore introducing improvements before manufacturing sample parts)
- Stage 2: MTM planning and actual activity analyses with MTM-UAS
- Stage 3: Ergonomics analyses with MTMergonomics® and EAWS on the basis of the planning and actual activity analyses
- Stage 4: Designing efficient work processes with the least possible physical strain
- Stage 5: Extending the TiCon® cycle module with a traffic light display from the ergonomics analysis
- Stage 6: Psychological pressure, ergonomic stressors.
Stages 1 – 4 have already been introduced; stages 5 and 6 are still being developed.
“Many things are in a state of flux at the moment. The introduction of EAWS hasn’t been completed yet. We’re currently in the process of purchasing measuring tools for the ergonomic analyses or developing and testing them ourselves. Looking back, we have to say that the one-week EAWS training course with its complex subject matter was very short. We were very satisfied with what the MTM instructor, Dr. Rast, communicated. But we can imagine a situation where in each of the four blocks the material is communicated on the first day and practical exercises are performed on the second day so that all that has been learned at the end of each block is consolidated with a complex practical example. During the EAWS training course, it became clear that not only weights and pressure play an important role in the case of ergonomic pressure, but the body posture, frequency and duration too. One major advantage involves combining the method and ergonomics so that work stations are designed to maintain good health,” Wartig says, summarizing the program.
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