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Manual Product Assembly is Alive and Well

Automated and large machines can drive more excitement from engineers, but there is no denying that for many plants and shops, manual assembly is still a very large part of the daily operations. Being properly equipped with the right workstations can drive significant productivity gains. Here's an introduction to modular workstation design.

Justin Mcleod Junior Mechanical Engineer / May 13th, 2019

Component library for a workstation using Vention parts


Modular workstations—where the assembly, inspection, and packaging steps are performed—are the heart of any manual assembly operation. These workstations are often linked to each other by gravity or an automated conveyor, and (ideally) can be quickly designed and configured to suit the evolving state of the end product.

Wondering how to set up a manual assembly line? Below are our top design considerations for these types of workstations.

Basic Structure

Workstations can be built with various rigidity levels to support a range of payloads. For the basic workstation frame, Vention offers four different profile dimensions in lengths ranging from 45 mm to 2,295 mm. In our experience, most users design workstations with a mix of 45 x 45 mm and 45 x 90 mm profiles, optimizing for rigidity and price as needed.


For more information on how to design an effective workstation frame, see our design guidelines:

Top 3 Design Tips for Effective T-Slot Aluminum Extrusion Structures


Mobility

Workstations can be either fixed or mobile. Fixed, floor-mounted workstation are lower cost and provide good stability. That said, most of our users opt for mobile “wheel-mounted” workstations because they enable faster reconfiguration of the manual assembly cell.


If you opt for a workstation with caster wheels, you’ll need a good braking system. These generally fall into two categories:

    • Wheel and swivel brake systems
    • Leveling foot-based brake systems

In our experience, brake systems involving a leveling foot are a little more expensive, but they also offer more stability.


Floor-mounted foot

Floor Anchor Leveling Foot with Pad


Caster wheel with swivel brake system

Premium Heavy-Duty Swivel Caster Wheel with Brake Heavy-Duty Swivel Caster Wheel with Brake


Caster wheel with levelling foot-based braking system

Premium Swivel Leveling Caster Wheel with Adjustment Wheel Premium Swivel Leveling Caster Wheel with Fixed Pedal

Telescopic Height Adjustment

The same workstation might need to suit multiple operators (especially if your business has day and night shifts). Hydraulic lifts make it easy to adjust the workstation’s height. Fully-enclosed hydraulic lift system are virtually maintenance-free, provide telescopic extensions of up to 305 mm, and can support payloads of up to 450 kg. To change the workstation height, simply turn the manual swivel handle until the desired height is reached.



Tool Management

Hand-held tools for workstations are typically managed according to frequency of use. High-usage tools are often displayed on an overhead rail using a small gantry or sliding tool hanger. This ensures quick and easy access.

For lower-usage tools, a simple set of drawers is a great storage option. Tool management components include the following:

Profile Slider Tool Hanger

Work Surface

Selecting the proper work surface for your workstation involves two main decisions: color and material.


Color

A white surface often suits assembly operations, because it provides a strong contrast with the part to be assembled. This makes it faster for the operator to find parts and tools on the work surface. Black work surfaces, on the other hand, tends to appear cleaner for longer, as wear and tear are not so obvious. We mostly see black surfaces used in packaging workstations.


Material

A common work surface material is high-density polyethylene (HDPE). HDPE provides a soft work surface, which is gentle on the parts being assembled, but also makes the work surface susceptible to being scratched. For this reason, HDPE is often seen as “sacrificial” material—something you should expect will acquire a battered appearance over time.Custom-sized plastic panels can easily be created in Vention’s MachineBuilder 3D using the panel feature. We offer multiple materials to satisfy different requirements and budgets, including:


Smart Device Integration

Modern workstations often incorporate smart features, ranging from warning signal lamps to IoT-based work instructions. To support such integrations, you might need flat-screen VEGA plates, a pivoting computer screen arm, or various mounting provisions. Some of these components are shown below:

Small Display Mounting Plate Large Display Mounting Plate

Examples and Use Cases

Workstations are always intended for a specific use case, whether that’s assembly, product testing, or packaging.

Check out some examples from the Vention community below. As always, you can search through the public library of designs to find even more ideas.





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