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Workstations

Workstations are exactly what they sound like. They are the locations where work is completed. In a non-Lean environment, workstations tend to be assigned to individuals, lack standardization, and often are very general in design. For example, a company may have a standard 6 foot long workbench with a shelf above it that is used in a variety of work areas.

Workstations in a Lean company vary significantly from those that are not focused on flow.

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In a Lean company, two things happen. The first is that workstation ownership by individuals diminishes, and they become team responsibilities. This is the result of a higher level of job rotation, cross training, and flexing production teams as demand varies. This, in turn, requires a higher degree of standardization.

The second big shift is that workstations become designed to suit the process rather than the process being installed onto an existing work platform. You will see a higher number of small, dedicated work areas. A 6 foot long bench may be replaces with three smaller custom work stations on wheels that can be easily moved around. These workstations are often designed from scratch using products like Creform or B-Line.

Of note, far less space is required on Lean workstations than those in other companies simply because there is less work-in-process to store. It is common to see a workspace with no flat surfaces, and only a small fixture in the center of the bench to hold a product.

Workstations in Lean offices typically exhibit more standardization in terms of 5S than non-Lean organization, and there may be a shift to open workspaces or lower cubicle walls, but swapping desks is still uncommon. People will flex to help other areas, but it is generally done from their own work area. Computer systems, however, mimic much of the standardization that custom designed shop floor workstations provide.

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  • Ann M says:

    I somewhat disagree with the second part of this article about lean office workstations. This past May we converted an office area from a batch setup to 4 cells (with 4 workstations in each cell).

    Often (day to day) our supervisor and manager for this department will have one person switch from the Green Team-Position 1 to the Blue Team-Position 2, etc. Although we have not completely standardized these workstations yet, we know it is a task that needs to get done, because right now when people are switched they have to gather up numerous work items and then re-arrange the existing workstation to fit in their new items.

    • Jeff Hajek says:

      Ann,

      That’s great! I love hearing about that. I think it is the right way to go. I should have made that more clear. I just meant that what you are doing is the exception rather than the rule.

      Great work, and thanks for sharing.

      By the way–how well received has that process been? Has it been effective (I think I know the answer, but like hearing when Lean principles work!)?

      Jeff

      • Ann M says:

        Thanks Jeff.

        There was some resistance at first, but people have mostly accepted it. We’ve had to adapt and change a lot on the fly since the original remodel, but overall it seems to be working great.

        We’ve been able to collect some data about current conditions, but didn’t have much collected before the change to compare.

        We print Christmas cards, and October-December is our busiest season for that. In the past, we have had our printing department frustrated because they have printed everything they can and are waiting for orders to be typeset before they can print them, but this year the department never really fell way behind like it used to.

        I would love to read more about lean office and standardized work in the future.

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