Quality/Published: August 9, 2023

Using the Golden Zone to Streamline Manufacturing Processes

Richard Nave
Published by
Richard Nave
Read time: 4 mins
Using the Golden Zone to Streamline Manufacturing Processes by Ease.io

In manufacturing, small inefficiencies can mean big hidden costs in terms of productivity. This is why it is crucial to streamline your manufacturing processes.

Consider a work cell that takes longer to complete a task compared with another cell on the line. This common scenario can create a bottleneck, where every work cell downstream can only operate as fast as the slowest cell. 

You may think that the slower cell just needs to work faster when in reality, the problem has nothing to do with operators at all. Instead, the workstation simply may be set up inefficiently, leading to wasted movement and a longer process. 

Leveraging the golden zone can help avoid these problems, ensuring manufacturing workstation design helps streamline processes rather than slow them down. Let’s look at how this principle works in practice and why it’s critical to manufacturing quality and safety.

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What Is the Golden Zone?

The golden zone in manufacturing refers to the optimal area for positioning tools, materials and work surfaces. Generally speaking, this zone is 45 degrees to the left and right of the operator and 30 to 60 inches in height—roughly knee-to-shoulder height. Having operators work within this zone maximizes efficiency while minimizing waste and ergonomic risk. 

The Golden Zone and Manufacturing Efficiency

How the Golden Zone can help to streamline manufacturing processes

When an operator has to move out of the golden zone to retrieve materials or perform a task, the result is wasted time and effort.   

For example, observing the process to pinpoint the cause of a slowdown at a particular plant,  we saw that operators had first to bend down, pick up two screws and hand start them. From there, they had to turn around to pick up a screwdriver from a table behind them, then turn back to drive the screws to final torque. Once again, operators had to turn around to set the screwdriver back down to pick up the screws for the next workpiece. 

The solution here was to put everything at the operator’s fingertips—that is, within the golden zone. Hanging the screwdriver on a traction system in front of the operator meant they didn’t have to turn around to pick up or set down the tool. A small stand installed next to the operator also meant they didn’t have to bend down to retrieve the screws.  It’s all to adhering to basic components of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) – streamlining people, premises, processes, products and procedures.

These small changes meant the operator no longer had to turn away from the workpiece, reducing the time to complete the sequence from 14 seconds to just 10 seconds. Moreover, it reduced the chances of operators dropping screws, a costly error potentially impacting product quality. 

The Golden Zone and Worker Safety

Using the golden zone to streamline your processes isn’t just about making processes faster. It also helps operators work more safely by reducing the risk of ergonomic injuries. 

Ergonomic injuries are one of the most common nonfatal workplace injuries, accounting for one-third of workers’ compensation costs, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 

In this context, keeping workers within the golden zone is critical for reducing ergonomic injuries resulting from overexertion, lifting, bending, twisting and other repetitive motions. This practice helps companies to minimize safety costs. Read more about the cost of safety.

Change Management Considerations in Streamlined Manufacturing Processes

When adding new equipment or updating procedures, it’s vital that changes don’t unintentionally introduce safety risks or inefficiency into the process. Ensuring that workstations are set up to leverage the golden zone is a key part of this, making it a crucial consideration from a change management perspective. 

For instance, many manufacturers are implementing connected worker platforms to accelerate training, provide remote support and enable real-time communication on the plant floor. Often this means installing new screens or terminals in workstations.  

In these situations, screens or devices should be installed in the operator’s line of sight within the golden zone. If you mount the device outside this area, the operator must take their eyes off the workpiece to complete the task. This can slow down the process, introduce opportunities for error and even increase the chance of ergonomic strain. 

Arranging workstations within the golden zone can be a helpful strategy for streamlining your operations and rooting out hidden factory processes hurting efficiency and productivity. It’s also essential for keeping workers safe from ergonomic risks and focused on the task at hand, minimizing extra steps that leave room for defects and injuries. 

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