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Work? Studies? Work Studies.

August 01, 2019

by Stephen Gibson

Studies have shown labor costs typically make up about 50% of the cost of service and approximately 25-30% in manufacturing. Industrial Systems Engineers (ISE) are notoriously known for assisting businesses to better control these costs and add profit to the bottom line. Most people imagine ISE’s walking around with a clipboard and a stopwatch simply demanding employees “work harder”. With a professional ISE, this could not be further from the truth. Yes, they do use time study data which is often gathered using a clipboard and stopwatch, but a true ISE uses this data for analyzing the process and designing a new or improving an existing process. The result should be either an equal or lighter workload on the operators along with equivalent or improved safety and ergonomics which lead to higher productivity.

In turn, customers receive lower costs and/or higher quality, and investors see a lower risk in employee injuries along with higher profits. All of the key stakeholders in the process should benefit.

I. C. Thomasson Associates offers Industrial Systems Engineering as part of our service capabilities. Our ISE is a Professional Engineer licensed in the state of Tennessee and has traveled around the globe and across multiple industries including manufacturing, warehousing, and even construction assisting businesses in this aspect leading to millions of dollars in annual savings. 

One such project was in the construction industry. The client had a goal to reduce the cost of installing prefabricated components in the construction of their facilities. The client originally had been given the recommendation to use a “LEAN” technique of “Value Added Studies” (aka Tool Time Studies) to “identify and remove waste from the process” and formed a team including our ISE to assist in carrying out this task.

While these exercises can prove somewhat effective, our ISE identified several issues and recommended an alternative. In construction, the location and crews installing these components constantly change. If a study such as this were conducted, how could the lessons be documented and shared from site to site? Also, identifying how much waste was in a process did not document what the process should be or how much value was actually being delivered. The client also wanted to implement metrics to measure how well different crews performed which would not be possible with this type of exercise. Instead, work studies could be used to resolve all of these issues.

Our ISE developed an Excel document using VBA to aid in the collection of time study data, aid in balancing the work between workers, determine the proper number of operators, and document the process in a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) as well as process flow charts and even incorporated a means to allow the client to conduct “Tool Time Studies” if they desired afterward. The team and the client agreed to try this method. After collecting data on multiple sites, a new process was developed to install the prefabricated components. The new process was developed keeping safety in mind for the workers. Work was redistributed among the workers and tasks were identified which could be completed in parallel. 

The new process initially indicated an improvement of 48% in labor and approximately 20% in lead time. Upon trialing the process, installation crews actually reported improvements between 40% and 68% in man-hours in addition to the nearly 20% improvement in lead times. The crews were able to meet or beat the expectations set forth in the SOP’s. The client has since recorded videos of the SOP’s in addition to those hard copies created to better share the process amongst different crews and the procedures have been successfully used on multiple construction projects.