Humantech helped staff at Dow Corning's silicone plant analyze ergonomic risk and redesign a silicone processing operation.

Humantech (Ann Arbor, MI) helped staff at Dow Corning's silicone plant in Hemlock, MI, analyze ergonomic risk and redesign a silicone processing operation. The result is an 80 percent reduction of manual material handling and increased productivity.

The Hemlock plant manufactures silicones used in the healthcare industry.

Dow Corning's silicone processing operation had previously been designated as the highest risk area in the facility. Employees in this area were manually handling between 4,000 and 6,000 pounds of silicone material during an 8-hour shift. The operation had a history of injuries, a high rate of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and a high OSHA recordable rate. The silicone processing operation contained four distinct job tasks, including cutting the base, operating a compound mixer, milling, and straining and packaging. Each of these tasks required the operators to repeatedly handle, manipulate and lift silicone chunks weighing between 15 and 50 pounds.

In 2000, Dow Corning contacted Humantech to assess the silicone processing operation and recommend improvements to the process. Humantech conducted an ergonomic design review of the operation, which included collecting forces, workstation measurements, operator comments and performing ergonomic risk assessments.

Recommendations were prioritized based on cost and time to implement, as well as ergonomic impact. These were divided into four regions ranging from immediate priorities, identified as high-impact and easy-to-implement, to future improvements, identified as high-impact but difficult-to-implement. The result was a prioritized implementation plan with short-term solutions and long-term design changes. More than 90 potential improvements were identified.

The facility quickly implemented the high-impact and easy-to-implement recommendations, resulting in reduced recordable injuries. With this success, the facility moved forward with the long-term implementation plans.

Over the course of 2 years, the facility redesigned the operation to include a conveyor system, an automated cutter and an automated strainer-all which created a continuous feed of materials.

In 2003, Humantech returned to the facility to reanalyze the improved milling, straining and packaging operation. The ergonomic risk surveys and summary indicated that the redesign process has reduced the ergonomic risk of two job tasks from high ergonomic risk, combining them into one operation with medium ergonomic risk. In the process of reducing ergonomic risk, the facility dramatically reduced manual material handling to less than 1,000 pounds per employee per 8-hour shift. Remarkably, productivity in the straining area has increased three-fold since the redesign.

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