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Quality improvement in manufacturing through

human performance enhancement

Majorkumar Govindaraju
Technical Information Management Services, Inc., Ohio, USA
Arunkumar Pennathur
University of Texas at El Paso, Texas, USA
Anil Mital
University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Quality, Performance,
Manufacturing, Productivity,

In the increasingly competitive
global economy, survival of an
industry depends on catering to
customer needs by quickly
producing quality products and
providing quality service at an
affordable price. In production, or
in service, ergonomic
considerations have manifested
themselves in two distinct, yet
related, domains. Focuses on the
humans who contribute to product
manufacture/ service. It is
frequently advocated that since
humans are unreliable and less
consistent, compared to
machines, they are primarily
responsible for lowering product
and service quality. Ergonomic
considerations, which, ironically,
can improve human performance,
are paid lip service during
manufacturing system design.
Compounding the problem is the
current inability of most
ergonomists to make ergonomic
recommendations that do not run
counter to the productivity and
quality goals of system designers.
Addresses these two issues by
illustrating, through four case
studies, the relationship between
quality and variables that affect
human performance.

Received: August 1998

Revised: July 1999
Accepted: July 2000

Integrated Manufacturing
12/5 [2001] 360367
# MCB University Press
[ISSN 0957-6061]

[ 360 ]

The quality movement in product
manufacturing and delivery of service has
undergone change from its initial emphasis
on quality through inspection, to the presentday emphasis on quality through the
development of robust processes capable of
performing consistently in developing
products and services that meet and exceed
user needs and expectations (Drury, 1997;
Eklund, 1997). Since humans are known to
increase process variability by being less
reliable and less consistent compared to
machines (Bullinger and Warnecke, 1985;
Orpana and Lukka, 1993; Sata, 1986), it is
frequently advocated that machines are
preferable in situations characterized by
design accuracy and tight tolerancing
requirements. During the 1980s, it was
believed that the demand for manufactured
goods would be met by a small workforce
operating in a modern automated
environment employing advanced
manufacturing technologies (OBrien, 1991).
Automatic identification systems
(transponders, barcodes, radio frequency,
speech input), automated storage and
retrieval systems, conveyor and automated
guided vehicle systems, machine assembly
and test systems, robotics workstation,
flexible manufacturing cells, and automated
packaging are all examples of such advanced
manufacturing technology. It is being
realized, however, that an effective
integration of modern manufacturing
technologies and information, and therefore
complete automation, is difficult to achieve,
at least in the foreseeable future, without
human input, for technical, economic and
cybernetic reasons.
Hard automation does not lend itself to
situations where products have to be
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changed frequently because of user needs,

costs, or engineering improvements (Bessant
and Haywood, 1985; Hartley, 1984).
Furthermore, there is the need to provide
flexibility as well as capability. Automated
equipment often provides the flexibility but
not the capability. Essential capability
requirements include intelligence; ability to
sense, see, touch, and feel; acquire knowledge
and judgement to carry out complex tasks,
and act according to the know-how of the
skilled worker; perform tasks reliably to
impart the necessary 3-D motions to the
product; communicate with the operator by
voice, written sentences, and other
appropriate forms of communication; and
learning on the job (Brady et al., 1984;
Sheridan, 1995; Yamashita, 1987). Economic
viability is also necessary if complete
automation is to become feasible. It has been
clearly demonstrated that the economic
disincentives of the automated option are
primarily due to low equipment reliability,
high interest rates, and declining low wages
(Brodner, 1986, 1990; Mital and George, 1989;
Mital, 1991, 1992). From a cybernetics
viewpoint also, complete automation is a suboptimal solution for manufacturing
organizations (Ashby, 1962; Brehmer, 1988;
Mital et al., 1994).
It is evident that people will be necessary
in manufacturing plants for a long time to
come. Therefore, manufacturing
organizations should aim at increasing the
efficiency and effectiveness of an enterprise
through the integration of technology and
humans. Given that humans will remain an
integral part of the industrial system, and
given that it is difficult at the present time to
exclusively rely on various tools of computer
integrated manufacturing (CIM), such as
computer aided design (CAD), computer
aided manufacturing (CAM), computer aided
process planning (CAPP), and computer
aided quality (CAQ) systems, neglecting the
human element will only result in suboptimal system performance. To optimize

Majorkumar Govindaraju,
Arunkumar Pennathur and
Anil Mital
Quality improvement in
manufacturing through human
performance enhancement
Integrated Manufacturing
12/5 [2001] 360367

manufacturing system performance,

researchers have advocated many different
approaches at different levels of analysis of
system design, ranging from focus on the
design of individual tasks, to macro
ergonomics and participatory ergonomics at
the organizational level. Thus, while
improvement of a manual material handling
task (Mital et al., 1997) is considered analysis
at the micro level, supervisory control
systems based on cognitive engineering
principles (Norman, 1986; Rasmussen, 1992;
Sheridan, 1994; Woods and Roth, 1988),
sociotechnical systems theory-based
optimization of social and technical systems
(Gerwin and Kolodny, 1992; Taylor and
Felten, 1993), and, more recently, computer
supported cooperative work (Rosenbrock,
1985; Schmidt and Bannon, 1992; Sinclair,
1992), are examples of macro-level analysis of
human-machine systems. Whatever the level
of analysis of human-machine systems, the
goal is still to optimize overall system
performance through consideration of
human performance at the design stage.
The focus of this paper is at the micro-level
of analysis of system performance.
Specifically, this paper is intended to show
how quality improvements are possible
through improvements in human
performance. This is achieved through a
collection of four case studies, presented in
the next section, clearly demonstrating the
relationship between quality and different
variables affecting human performance.
The overall purpose of this paper is twofold, and is based on the two different
audiences this paper targets:
1 To demonstrate to a manufacturing
engineering audience (including
manufacturing engineers and managers,
manufacturing system designers, shop
floor personnel, and manufacturing
researchers), the importance of
ergonomics considerations in
manufacturing systems design, and to
alleviate fears in such an audience that a
human in the system will always
contribute to a lowering of product or
process quality.
2 To demonstrate to ergonomists the need
for them to temper their ergonomics
recommendations by considering the
impact of such recommendations on
product manufacturing considerations
such as product quality, choice of
manufacturing processes and materials,
and productivity.
Unless ergonomists can learn to evaluate the
effect of their recommendations on
production factors such as production

volume, production rate, product design, etc.,

they will have little or no impact on
engineering and system design.

Case studies
There is a scarcity of literature on
experimental investigations clearly
demonstrating how different human
performance variables (summarized in
Figure 1), directly affect the quality of
products and services. When the demands
due to these variables exceed the physical,
mental, and sensory abilities of an
individual, it results in the deterioration of
human performance and a resultant decline
in quality (Figure 2). This section presents
four case studies which attempt to relate how
work conditions affect human performance,
and hence output quality. These studies also
suggest the ergonomic interventions needed
in each case to improve the quality of
product, or service, rendered.

Case study 1: ergonomic work conditions

and product quality in auto assembly
This case study evaluated quality as affected
by work conditions. The study was conducted
in several phases in a Swedish car assembly
plant (Eklund, 1995). The assembly line
studied was of the mini-line type consisting
of eight shorter lines in a serial flow, with
buffers in between. Each of these eight lines
formed the basis for one department. Painted
car bodies entered the first department and
fully assembled cars left the eighth
department, after which all cars were
inspected in a separate (ninth) department,
where final adjustment was also carried out.
The first phase of the study was aimed at
developing an inventory of ergonomically
demanding tasks. This inventory covered all
eight departments where cars were
assembled. Three major categories of tasks
were identified:
1 physically demanding tasks;
2 tasks with design that made assembly
difficult; and
3 psychologically demanding tasks.
Interviews were conducted with the most
experienced workers. They were asked to
identify at least five, and at most ten, tasks
with ergonomic problems. Several of such
problematic tasks were video recorded and
were assessed by two experts: an ergonomist
and a company physiotherapist.
The second phase consisted of analyzing
quality statistics pertaining to all production
departments except the first department. The
statistics consisted of a number of recorded
deficiencies from each department and the

[ 361 ]

Majorkumar Govindaraju,
Arunkumar Pennathur and
Anil Mital
Quality improvement in
manufacturing through human
performance enhancement

Figure 1
Performance shaping factors

Integrated Manufacturing
12/5 [2001] 360367

remarks pertaining to them. A ``quality

deficiency rating was calculated based on
these statistics. The quality statistics from
the first department were treated separately
as the different aspects were measured by

Figure 2
Relationship between human performance and quality

[ 362 ]

different group of persons using different

The third phase consisted of analyzing
quality statistics of finished cars which
passed through the final adjustment. A
random sample of completed cars were
selected, and disassembled. The number of
deficiencies and the quality deficiency points
were then recorded. The quality deficiencies
were ranked on a scale of 1 to 50, where a
score of 1 indicated an insignificant,
superficial, deficiency, and a score of 50
indicated a very serious deficiency.
In the fourth phase, department internal
quality statistics were acquired from the first
department that was not included in the
second phase. The data comprised the total
number of recorded deficiencies and the
deficiency types.
A total of 58 tasks with ergonomic
problems based on one or more of the three
categories mentioned earlier were identified.
Of these, 43 tasks had problems in the form of
physical demands. Product designs made the
components difficult to assemble in 25 tasks,
and ten other tasks were identified as
psychologically demanding. Table I shows
that the quality deficiency rating for tasks
with ergonomic problems was 4,088 and that
for tasks without ergonomic problems it was
4,154. The assembly time for the tasks with
ergonomic problems was 25 per cent of the
total assembly time. The relative risk for

Majorkumar Govindaraju,
Arunkumar Pennathur and
Anil Mital
Quality improvement in
manufacturing through human
performance enhancement
Integrated Manufacturing
12/5 [2001] 360367

quality deficiencies among the ergonomically

demanding tasks was 2.95 [(4,088/0.25)/(4,154/
0.75)], indicating a noticeable over
representation of quality deficiencies for
ergonomically demanding tasks (p < 0.05)
from final adjustment statistics. The quality
deficiency points from the random
disassembly inspection also showed a
statistically significant over representation
for the ergonomically demanding tasks (p <
0.05) and the relative risk for this category
was 1.94. Table I also shows that the number
of quality deficiencies for the ergonomically
demanding tasks constituted 30 per cent of all
quality deficiencies. With the relative risk
being 1.85 they were also over represented
(p < 0.05).
Several workers in the final interview
complained that tasks with ergonomics
problems caused fatigue and pain in various
parts of their body. The workers avoided
exposing their bodies to more discomfort.
They made less effort in performing the task
correctly and were contented with slightly
imperfect results When they became tired or
disturbed due to an ergonomic problem they
tended to view that problem as being too
difficult to solve in the time available. Rather
than deal with it personally, the workers
considered it better to pass on the
uncompleted work to the adjusters.
In the assembly line where a group of
assemblers worked on a stationary car, the
task had to be completed by all the workers
before the car moved to the next location. If
any worker finished last he or she became
the subject of heavy group pressure. To avoid
such pressure the worker performed as fast
as possible, and thereby took chances or
deliberately passed on rectification tasks to
the adjusters when problems occurred.
There were also organizational reasons for
the observed quality deficiencies. Many
workers pointed out that the reason for
deliberately passing on uncompleted work to

Table I
Assembly time and quality deficiencies during various phases

P has e
Se cond p hase
Third pha se
Fou rth phase

Assem bly tim e p ro portion (% )

Tasks w ith
ergono m ic
problem s

Tasks w itho ut
ergono m ic
proble m s

Q ua lity deficiency ra tings

R ela tive risk
Q ua lity deficie ncy points
R ela tive risk
Assem b ly tim e pro portio n (% )
N um b er o f qua lity deficienc ies
R ela tive risk

4,088 (5 0)
221 (39)
342 (30)

4154 (50 )
3 41 (61)
7 94 (70)

N ote: N um bers in pa re ntheses are pe rcenta ge s

the adjusters was the perception of ``fair

play. The assemblers had lower status and
wages than the adjusters. The assemblers felt
they were under pressure and that the
adjuster had little or no work to do. The
assemblers reacted to this situation by
passing on more work to the adjusters. The
workers also pointed out that some of the
quality problems had existed for years, and
that there was no response or even feedback
whenever they reported such problems to the
management. As a result, they lost the desire
to make an effort in other areas and stopped
trying to compensate for the fault.
This study clearly demonstrates that
ergonomics problems lead to the
deterioration of worker performance, which
ultimately leads to quality deficiencies. Poor
work design, a product which was difficult to
assemble, and organizational shortcomings
were the reasons for such performance and
quality problems. Using the results from this
study, the plant management now has
initiated a participatory change project.
Work tasks with ergonomics and quality
problems are given higher priority of change.

Case study 2: ergonomic workplace and

quality of inspection in manufacture
This case study analyzed the manufacture of
consistently high quality products (Klatte et
al., 1997). It strengthens the argument that a
process capable of producing quality
products should take into account not only
machine-specific parameters, but also factors
related to work design and work
organization. In instances where even the
best efforts to control product quality result
only in partially capable processes,
inspection of the outgoing products will
eliminate those with faults. This study is an
examination of the effect of machine- and
material-specific factors, and the effect of
work design measures on the quality
capability of industrial processes in the
production of inside door panels in the
pressing department of the Wolfsburg auto
works in Germany.
Preliminary examination revealed that the
main problem of variance in quality of the
inside door panel was due to possible
differences between the two types of metal
sheets that are processed, and the setting
parameters of the drawing press. The sheet
metal came from two coil suppliers, A and B.
The three levels of settings for the pressure
exerted by the sheet metal retainer on the
drawing press (minimum, medium, and
maximum setting), were intended to cover
the whole range of settings of the drawing
press. The assessment of the process
capability of the stamping process was based

[ 363 ]

Majorkumar Govindaraju,
Arunkumar Pennathur and
Anil Mital
Quality improvement in
manufacturing through human
performance enhancement
Integrated Manufacturing
12/5 [2001] 360367

[ 364 ]

on a sample comprising 60 inside door

panels, 24 of which were examined for
surface quality, and all 60 for dimensional
accuracy. The compliance of the door panels
with the required dimensions, was, in each
case, examined at 13 measurement points
distributed throughout the entire contour of
the door.
The results showed that surface quality of
the inside door panels was influenced by both
the press setting and the coil supplier (p <
0.05). More surface faults occurred with the
parts produced from supplier B coil than
with those from the coil from supplier A.
This could be due to the differences in the
characteristic values for the material, as well
as in thickness of the steel sheet. Also,
increasing pressure level of the drawingpress retainer resulted in improvement of
surface quality.
Examination of the inside door panels for
dimensional accuracy revealed significant
differences (p < 0.05) between the three press
settings at four out of 13 locations. Significant
differences between the coil suppliers were
observed at five of the 13 measurement points
(p < 0.05). The press line produced a process
capability index Cp greater than 1.33 for all
measurement points except at point 2, for
which the Cp was 1.07. Therefore, the process
was considered as only partially capable in
the case of measurement point 2.
Production processes which are partially
capable necessitate inspection of outgoing
parts for quality. At Wolfsburg, the workers
carried out a cycle-related, visual, 100 per
cent inspection of the surface quality. The
workers at the end of the press line manually
removed the finished inside door panel from
the conveyor belt and placed it in
transportation containers. Both front and
rear sides of the panel were inspected for
surface quality by turning the door panels.
As the production rate of the installation was
12 parts per minute, a cycle time of 20 seconds
resulted for the handling and examination of
the part when four workers were employed.
Within that period it was only possible to
turn and inspect the entire inside door panel.
The examination was performed at the
conveyor belt while the parts were in motion.
The overall levels of illumination and
contrast were relatively poor. The
examination, thus, was of low reliability due
to these factors.
On account of the fact that detection
performance is better during a cycle
independent procedure (McFarling and
Heimstra, 1975), and since the level of
illumination has a significant impact on the
reliability in industrial quality testing
(Ferguson et al., 1974), the inspection was

sought to be improved by optimizing the

illumination, and switching to a cycleindependent examination. It was decided to
replace the 100 per cent inspection at the
conveyor belt with a sample testing at a
special inspection workplace close to the
conveyor belt. This was expected to facilitate
cycle-independent examination of a
stationary object under conditions of optimal
illumination, and extension of cycle time for
inspection of the individual panels. Such an
ergonomic redesign of the workplace lead to
an improvement in quality while reducing
the cycle time for inspection.
According to a recent experimental study
(Mital et al., 1998), comparing manual
inspection with hybrid inspection in a
general manufacturing scenario, it was
concluded that hybrid inspection led to
superior performance compared to manual
inspection, as indicated by improved
accuracy and improved speed of inspection.
Manual inspection activities are entirely
carried out by a human inspector, whereas
hybrid inspection is semi-automated and the
inspectors are assisted by equipment such as
vision systems, coordinate measuring
machines, etc. (Kopardekar et al., 1995). It can
be expected that by employing hybrid
inspection using special imaging and
measurement equipment to measure surface
quality and dimensional accuracy, further
enhancement in inspection performance and
the resultant quality of outgoing door panels
can be achieved at Wolfsburg auto works.

Case 3: workplace illumination and

product quality in circuit board
This case study illustrates the ergonomic
improvements undertaken at the circuit
board manufacturing unit of IBM located at
Austin where automatic machines were used
for insertion of components into circuit
boards (Helander and Burri, 1995). Besides
process monitoring, machine operators also
performed visual inspection and quality
control of the inserted components. On
interviewing the operators it was found that
the illumination level was inadequate for
visual inspection. While some of the areas
had an illumination level of approximately
1,000 lux, several work areas were as low as
120 lux. As 1,000 lux was generally considered
a minimal requirement for visual inspection
of small parts, the illumination level was
increased to 1,000 lux throughout.
The increased illumination was achieved
by implementing the following changes:
Fluorescent tubes were installed.
Lights, which had been turned off to
conserve energy, were switched on.

Majorkumar Govindaraju,
Arunkumar Pennathur and
Anil Mital
Quality improvement in
manufacturing through human
performance enhancement
Integrated Manufacturing
12/5 [2001] 360367

Light fixtures were lowered from the

Windows were installed in the wall for
outside light.

The outside windows were beneficial for

several reasons. Besides improving the
illumination level, they also created an
aesthetic and friendly environment. The
outside view also served as a landmark for
operators to orient themselves in the plant,
and created better awareness of the time of
day, which is specially important for shift
work. Because of this, outside windows are
required by law in several European
The detection rate of faulty items improved
with the increased illumination, even in areas
for routine handling of products and supplies,
and as a result, the process yield also
improved dramatically. Operator productivity
and process yield improved by 23 per cent and
18 per cent, respectively, while the injury rate
reduced by 19 per cent. The beneficial effects
of the improved illumination were
acknowledged by the operators.
In a field study, it is often difficult to
quantify the effect of ergonomic
improvements on quality, as opposed to other
engineering changes, and this case study
suffers from a lack of control of several such
variables which could have contributed to
the quality improvements. However, at the
end of the study, 26 managers and engineers
were interviewed. They all agreed that
approximately half the quality
improvements could be due to ergonomic
changes while the other half were attributed
to other engineering and production changes.
The manufacturing management was
extremely positive about the ergonomic
improvements and reported that several
other manufacturing areas also claimed
benefits from the ergonomic redesigns since
it improved the quality of the product coming
to their area.

Case study 4: ergonomic changes and

quality improvement in flashlight and
lantern plant
This case study involved the riveting
operation at a flashlight and lantern plant
and showed how ergonomic modifications
resulted in better productivity and quality of
system functioning (Pulat, 1992). An
expensive machine was designed and custom
built to automate the label-riveting operation
on flashlight tubes. The task involved the
placing of oval-shaped plastic labels of size
1in. major axis length and 0.25in. minor axis
length on a rotating table of 1ft diameter with
very close fit requirements. Labels were

picked up from the table by a suction

mechanism and positioned on a tube which
was delivered to the riveting station by a
conveyor mechanism. The label was then
automatically riveted to the tube at both ends.
The plant was experiencing many rejects
from this operation and most of the rejects
had the label missing. It could be that either
the suction mechanism did not work
properly, or the worker could not keep up
with the speed of the rotating table. Visual
observations led to the conclusion that the
problem was due to the operator. It was found
that it was very difficult for the operator to
keep up with the speed of the rotating table.
Three adjustments helped change what was
an expensive operation into a profitable one:
1 The angular speed of the turntable was
2 The job was assigned to an operator who
possessed better finger dexterity.
3 The vendor was contracted to deliver
labels packaged in proper alignment,
reducing many finger movements for
After these changes, the operation achieved a
significant reduction in the reject rate and
almost a 50 per cent increase in output.

This paper illustrates, through four case
studies, how ergonomic work conditions
affect human performance and quality.
Presently, quality improvements are
primarily sought by improved process
techniques and materials. However, a
holistic approach toward quality assurance
requires that due consideration be given to
improving operator efficiency. Paucity of
experimental investigations in clearly
demonstrating the link between ergonomics
and quality suggests that more systematic
research needs to be performed to investigate
how quality is affected by ergonomic
variables such as work area, job design,
equipment design, man/machine design,
personal interaction, organizational
structure, and work environment.
Eventually, quality products can only be
created by making a process possible by
optimizing all the variables related to
production such as workers, material, and
machines. Further, experimental
investigations demonstrating clear linkages
between ergonomics, quality, and cost are
needed. Variables that affect human
performance, variables that affect quality,
and variables that affect cost must be
considered systematically in such

[ 365 ]

Majorkumar Govindaraju,
Arunkumar Pennathur and
Anil Mital
Quality improvement in
manufacturing through human
performance enhancement
Integrated Manufacturing
12/5 [2001] 360367

[ 366 ]

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