Industrial Engineering

An Ergonomics Metamorphosis at Gulfstream

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ISE Magazine – Volume 49: Number 03
By Michael Hughes

In a jet manufacturer company, like Gulfstream Aerospace, ergonomics is a big deal. Many of aircraft manufacturing activities include repetitive manual labor like lifting and twisting parts. Gulfstream took its ergonomics practice to a new level by actually involving their shop floor technicians and mechanics to improve their safety and comfort at work.

The beginning of this practice is not easy. Prior to hiring Davana Pilczuk, an ergonomist in 2008, Gulfstream had zero ergonomics program. Pilczuk started the ergonomics practice by spreading awareness of ergonomics and making people love it. She then trained a few select key players in basic ergonomics and let the words spread. After some time, she assembled ergo council of volunteers to help circulate the knowledge and encourage their colleagues to improve their work tools by using discarded materials. In addition to improving employee’s safety and comfort, it also reduced waste and increased productivity. In later years Gulfstream holds an internal ergonomics competition annually.

Gulfstream’s ergonomics program works bottom up and not top down. This led to recognition and engagement of the people on the shop floor, changing the people’s negative mindset of ergo program. They can actually identify day-to-day problems and solve it. Most of their fixes involve redesigning tool for hand. But it does not stop there. There was a problem with temperature in the cockpit where technicians have to spend hours inside running electronic check. The enclosed space had no air conditioning and thus made it excruciatingly hot inside. The council and mechanics then designed a hose-and-axial-fan system to draw air out and managed to reduce the temperature by 10 degree, much to the relief of the technicians. There are many more tool designs that actually improve the employees’ health and productivity, a fine tune to the upper echelon.

All in all, this program will not run successfully without Gulfstream acknowledging that people are their most important resource. Gulfstream believes that if their people aren’t safe and they aren’t happy, they are suboptimizing their ability to create a good product.