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Workstation Design

One of the key elements of any process is the workstation. Simply put, a workstation is the area that contains the work surfaces, fixtures, tools, and materials needed to perform a job.

Classic thinking promotes the use of standard workstations. These off-the-shelf setups can be interchangeable, and often can be purchased at significant bulk discounts. The problem with purchasing a workstation out of a catalog is that it does not necessarily meet the needs of the operator performing the process.

A much better approach is to design each workstation to match the specific needs of the tasks that will be performed there. Common design materials include things like B-Line, which is essentially a heavy-duty erector set, or Creform, which is like giant Tinker toys. Using these modular systems lets an operator design exactly the workspace they need.

When configuring a work area, keep the following things in mind:

  1. Minimize work surfaces. They collect unnecessary items and require more cleaning. They also encourage batching. Match the space to the need of the task.
  2. Make workstations adjustable. Not all of your operators will be the same height. Adjustments can be done with low tech pins, or high-tech hydraulic or electrical lifts, depending on how frequently you need to change.
  3. Put the workstation on wheels. You’ll be happy you did this every time you have kaizen activity in the area.
  4. Use quick disconnects on all of your lines. Similar to wheels, the easier you make it to reconfigure your work area, the more versatile your workstation is.
  5. Feed materials from the back. Make it easy for the materials team to restock the workstations without disrupting the operator.
  6. Make it U-shaped. Don’t have people reaching for the back corners.
  7. Think in three dimensions. Meters and displays can be angled up towards the operator by putting cutouts in the work surface.
  8. Make a hole for trash. Don’t have people bending and reaching looking for a trashcan. You can put a lip around it or cover the hole to keep things from falling in unintentionally.
  9. Make tools easy to grab and put away. Orient them so person can grasp them ready to use. Don’t make them flip them around.
  10. Build fixtures into the work surface. Make it easy to do the job with only two hands. Most people on your team do not have the third hand required by many processes.
  11. Feed small parts through tubes. Configured properly, they can take up less space than standard bins.
  12. Angle work surfaces, if appropriate. Figure out how to orient the work to the person, not the other way around.
  13. Don’t forget the information requirements. Work to improve administrative tasks, but make sure whatever is left is considered when designing the workstation.
  14. Avoid chairs. Most people work better on their feet. This is especially true in U-shaped cells or when people do a lot of job rotation.


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