Existing logistics systems have primarily been planned on the basis of technical considerations and cater less to the needs of human beings. Researchers at the University of Stuttgart's Institute of Human Factors and Technology Management (IAT) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) want to improve interactions between people, technology and organization.
Bending, walking, stretching, lifting heavy loads, packing them and then on to the next rack: pickers have to walk up to 15 kilometers per day whilst working in the warehouse. Breaks are far and few between. “Logistics personnel come up against their limits – both physically and in terms of concentration”, says Dr. Dirk Marrenbach, who together with Dr. Martin Braun, is responsible for the Preventative Principles and Methods for Age-Appropriate and Market Conform Work System Organization in Intra Logistics (PREVILOG) project. Intra logics encompasses the transportation, storage, picking and packing of goods within a company. The relevant jobs are generally considered to be unattractive and the pay is very poor. A high sick rate and permanent personnel shortages are widespread within the industry, which is where the PREVILOG project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research comes in.
Together, the IAT and IAO are attempting to structure job design measures in the intraintra-logistics sector such as to achieve a better balance between ergonomics, organization and behavioral prevention. “The objective is to make these jobs more attractive”, says Marrenbach.
Robots are no solution (yet)
Replacing intra-logistics with robots will not be feasible in the foreseeable future. “Because of their fl exibility, human beings remain indispensable in this sector; they understand the bigger picture and can react quickly to instructions”. In an initial step, Sven Schuler and his colleagues from the IAT have been analyzing existing work systems. They have developed an analytical tool with which they can determine the stress levels and demands of work systems in the intra-logistics sector. Based on the fi ndings of the analyses, the IAO implements the subsequently derived measures within the companies.
“We’re still in the pilot phase”, says Marrenbach. One partner, for example, may need new work places but doesn't have enough space. “There we would organize a new room layout”, whereby we address concrete questions such as where the racks need to be placed to prevent people walking into them. The project is also aimed at retaining experienced staff and their knowledge within the respective company. “Older workers, for instance, may start to suffer from impaired vision. So we install better lighting at work stations and also provide magnifying glasses”, Braun explains. How successful such measures are will be shown when the evaluation results are returned at the end of the project in July 2019.