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journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/ejor

Discrete Optimization

Alena Otto, Armin Scholl

Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena, Chair of Management Science, Carl-Zei-Strae, D-07743 Jena, Germany

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:

Received 23 October 2010

Accepted 29 January 2011

Available online 4 February 2011

Keywords:

Scheduling

Combinatorial optimization

Ergonomic risk assessment

Assembly line balancing

Simulated annealing

a b s t r a c t

In manufacturing, control of ergonomic risks at manual workplaces is a necessity commanded by legislation, care for health of workers and economic considerations. Methods for estimating ergonomic risks of

workplaces are integrated into production routines at most rms that use the assembly-type of production. Assembly line re-balancing, i.e., re-assignment of tasks to workers, is an effective and, in case that no

additional workstations are required, inexpensive method to reduce ergonomic risks. In our article, we

show that even though most ergonomic risk estimation methods involve nonlinear functions, they can

be integrated into assembly line balancing techniques at low additional computational cost. Our computational experiments indicate that re-balancing often leads to a substantial mitigation of ergonomic risks.

2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

The problem of unfavorable working conditions, or poor workplace ergonomics, is an acute topic today. Ergonomic risks at the

workplace cause a lot of damage on health and quality of life of

workers, deteriorate economic results of employers and of the

economy as a whole. In 2008, along 315,000 cases of work-related

musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs, often referred to as ergonomic

injuries), requiring a median of 10 days away from work, were reported in the US (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009). Annual compensation cost for MSDs paid by employers in the US amount to

15 to 20 billion US dollars. Moreover, occupational diseases of

workers indirectly cause further cost on rms: via loss of production capacity due to absenteeism of workers, lower worker productivity and higher defect rates in work. This can be illustrated by the

example of Peugeot, whose ergonomics program reduced the cycle

time for the nal vehicle assembly line together with a simultaneous decrease by 30% in new cases of musculoskeletal disorders

(Moreau, 2003).

Workplace ergonomics is becoming even more important following recent developments in legislation (EU Machinery directive,

2006/42/EC, 89/391/EEC, Occupational Safety and Health act of

1970 among others) and an on-going ageing of the workforce in

most of the developed countries.

Already today in assembly line production, especially in nal

assembly, where the share of manual labor is high, a special attention is paid to ergonomics. Most renowned companies incorporate

Corresponding author: Tel.: +49 3641 943171.

E-mail

Scholl).

addresses:

armin.scholl@uni-jena.de,

a.scholl@wiwi.uni-jena.de

0377-2217/$ - see front matter 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

doi:10.1016/j.ejor.2011.01.056

(A.

production routine (Toyota Verication of Assembly Line at Toyota,

GM-UAW at General Motors, AP-Ergo at Volkswagen to name a

few). If ergonomic risks are detected, re-balancing of the assembly

line is recommended as an effective method in the short-run (Hilla,

2006).

Ergonomic aspects have been barely considered in assembly

line balancing literature, though they are becoming increasingly

important in practice. Few articles on this topic are those of

Miralles et al. (2008) and Costa and Miralles (2009), who introduce

and analyze a problem of assigning workloads to stations and to

workers with different (dis-) abilities. Another article, written by

Carnahan et al. (2001), examines an assignment of a certain class

of tasks gripping tasks and their inuence on fatigue and

recovery dynamics of workers. However, to our best knowledge,

no attempt has been made yet to incorporate ergonomic risk estimation methods used in practice into assembly line balancing

models, though they are considered important by manufacturers.

To close this gap, we address this important question in the

present study. We provide an overview of some methods for ergonomic risks estimation, which are recommended and utilized in

practice. Most of those methods are based on nonlinear functions

such that incorporating them into state-of-the-art line balancing

models and (exact) solution procedures is not straightforward.

We propose different ways to model ergonomic aspects and a

two-stage heuristic approach, based on the well-known exact balancing procedure SALOME and the heuristic meta-strategy simulated annealing. By means of this heuristic approach, we can

achieve a signicant reduction in ergonomic risks of workplaces

at low computational cost even without increasing manufacturing

capacity, i.e., number of workstations (and workers). The proposed

278

two-stage heuristic approach, furthermore, allows for a controllable increase in manufacturing capacity considering the trade-off

between increased costs from adding stations on the one hand

and reduced ergonomic risks on the other hand.

We precede with an overview of ergonomics tools in Section 2.

A line balancing problem incorporating ergonomic risk factors,

ErgoSALBP, is described and modeled in Section 3. In Section 4,

we propose a two-stage heuristic, which is tested in comprehensive computational experiments in Section 5. A discussion in Section 6 concludes the paper.

2. Methods for estimating ergonomic risks

In the mandatory Appendix D.1 to 1910.900 of Final Ergonomics Program Standard, the Occupational Safety and Health

Administration (2000; OSHA for short) provides a list of methods

recommended for the estimation of ergonomic risks of workplaces.

In this section, we provide a brief description of selected methods

recommended by OSHA for application in assembly line production

the revised NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety

and Health) equation and the job strain index; the method OCRA

(OCcupational Repetitive Action) recommended by European

Norms on repetitive actions (EN 1005-5, 2007) and the EAWS

(European Assembly Worksheet) method, which was created for

and adapted by several European rms that employ an assembly

production system.

Throughout the paper, we will use an example of an assembly

line, the precedence graph for which is given in Fig. 1. The graph

consists of n = 11 tasks i = 1, . . . , n with task times ti to be executed

on each workpiece at a workstation during the cycle time of

c = 63 seconds. Every task involves several actions of upper limbs,

while some of them demand application of forces (see Table 1).

2.1. Risk estimation for manual handling: revised NIOSH equation

The NIOSH equation was developed in 1981 by the National

Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for risk estimation of

working conditions, where manual handling activities are the main

source of risk and lifting comprises more than 90% of manual handling activities (Waters et al., 1994).

The NIOSH equation communicates a lifting index LI that shows

the relation of the current load weight to the recommended load

weight limit:

LI

Load weight

Recommended weight limit

The higher the lifting index, the higher percentage of the workforce

is likely to be under risk for developing low back pain. The recommended weight limit is calculated depending on lifting conditions

TS, e. g. vertical travel distance of hands or degree of asymmetry

in posture, and the frequency of lifting FM:

number of lifts per minute. It takes into account the duration of

6

2

18

18

15

10

12

15

11

15

21

ti

Table 1

Example of an assembly line. Task description for the right hand. Cycle time is

63 seconds.

TaskNo.

Task time

(seconds)

Actions

Posture

Average force, %

of max force

capacity (MFC)

1

2

3

4

5

6

18

6

15

21

3

6

8

2

5

6

5

2

Elbow exion > 60

Elbow exion > 60

Elbow exion > 60

Hand grip (wide)

Neutral posture

Neutral posture

8

9

10

11

18

15

15

12

3

4

3

11

Dorsal exion

Neutral posture

Dorsal exion

Dorsal exion

20%

5%

Insignicant

10%

33%

1 lifting of 17 kg

(avg. force of 70%)

1 lifting of 15 kg

(avg. force of 40%)

20%

33%

25%

10%

Table 2

Frequency multiplier FM for 28 hours of continuous lifting and lift height P30 cm.

Frequency: lifts/min

60.2

0.5

...

FM

0.85

0.81

0.75

0.65

0.55

0.45

...

the lifting activity, as well as the vertical height of the lift from

the oor. In Table 2, we present frequency multipliers for 28 hours

of continuous lifting and vertical lift height of 30 cm or more. TS

considers task specic parameters and indicates the maximal recommended weight of the load that can be lifted by healthy workers

under certain lifting conditions. For example, under the ergonomically most favorable lifting conditions (e. g. when the weight is held

close to the body), TS is equal to 23 kg.

In our example, let us assume that tasks 6 and 7 are performed

on the same station. The worker lifts under ergonomically favorable lifting conditions a 17 kg and a 15 kg load in each cycle of

63 seconds (see Table 1). The task specic parameter TS for both

cases of lifting has the ideal value of 23 kg and the frequency multiplier FM for both cases is 0.7557 (60/63 = 0.9524 lifts per minute,

the value of FM is retrieved from Table 2 by interpolation). So, the

recommended weight limit is 17.38 kg and the resulting lifting

indices are 0.98 for task 6 and 0.86 for task 7.

In case of several lifting tasks, we compute the composite lifting

index CLI as follows:

CLI LI11 LI21;2 LI21 LI31;2;3 LI31;2

LIj1;...;i is calculated for the lifting task j based on the cumulated frequency of the tasks 1, 2, . . . , i. Tasks are numbered in non-increasing

order of their individual lifting indices LIjj . Generally, composite

CLI 6 1 is considered to be acceptable.

For a station load consisting of tasks 6 and 7, we get LI11 0:98

and LI21 0:86 as explained above as well as LI21;2 0:99, which

corresponds to two lifts of 15 kg in 63 seconds, so that the composite index CLI amounts to 1.11. Usually, this work load is considered

unacceptable.

Similar Methods. Several other methods are constructed

according to the logics of the revised NIOSH lifting equation,

e.g., the Siemens method (Bokranz and Landau, 2006). Additionally, the Siemens lifting index takes into account FI, a factor that

is dependent on demographic characteristics and tness of the

worker:

i

LI

Load weight

Load weight

FI FM TS

279

principle: LI 6 0.85 is a low-risk zone (green), 0.85 < LI 6 1 is a zone

of possible risks (yellow) LI > 1 and is a zone of high risks (red).

Table 4

Values of the force multiplier FoM.

Average force, % MFC

FoM

5%

1

10%

0.85

20%

0.65

30%

0.35

40%

0.2

P50%

0.01

Repetitive handling at high frequency is evaluated by OCRA index (Occhipinti, 1998; EN 1005-5). OCRA index considers tasks

done by upper limbs and ergonomic analysis is performed separately for each hand. OCRA index is calculated in the following

way:

OCRA index

Actual frequency

Recommended frequency

The higher OCRA index is, the higher is the risk of musculoskeletal

diseases of upper limbs. In European norms CEN it is advised to consider risk levels of OCRA 6 2.2 as acceptable (green), those between

2.3 to 3.5 as conditionally acceptable (yellow) and levels of OCRA

above as unacceptable (red).

Actual and recommended frequencies by convention are measured in number of repetitions per minute. The recommended frequency is computed as follows:

short-cyclical activity within the shift). In the ergonomically most

favorable conditions for repetitive activities performed during an

eight-hour shift, OS achieves the best case value of 18 repetitions

per minute. In less ideal conditions, the value is reduced

accordingly.

PM is a multiplier for posture. Postures for upper limbs are classied by anatomical segments involved (shoulder, elbow, wrist and

hand) and the awkwardness of the posture (example of values is

given in Table 3). A multiplier for each unfavorable posture category is calculated depending on the share of the cycle time spent

there. The lowest value over all posture categories in the station

load (i.e. signaling the highest risk) is assigned to PM. RM is a repetitiveness multiplier taking value 0.7 if the cycle time is less than

15 seconds and/or same actions of upper limbs are performed for

more than 50% of the cycle time, otherwise RM equals to 1.

FoM is a force multiplier depending on the average forces applied by upper limbs (see Table 4). Presence of additional risk factors (such as working at cold temperatures) are captured by the

additional factors multiplier AdM. The value of AdM depends on

the duration of the workers exposure to these additional risk factors (see Table 3). The dynamics of the different multipliers is represented in Fig. 2.

Let in our example tasks 1 to 5 belong to the same station. Here

we will calculate OCRA for the right hand. The work load at this

station involves a wide hand grip of the right hand for 33% of the

cycle time (PMhand = 0.7) and elbow exion of more than 60 for

67% of the cycle time (PMelbow = 0.7). We choose the posture with

the lowest posture multiplier and set PM = 0.7. Further, the

(time-weighted) average force applied during the cycle comprises

Table 3

Example values of the posture multiplier PM and the additional factors multiplier

AdM.

Duration, share of cycle time

1/4

1/3

1/2

2/3

3/3

P45, wide hand grip)

AdM

PM for mild postures

(e.g. elbow exion >60)

0.7

0.65

0.6

0.5

1

1

0.95

1

0.925

1

0.9

0.7

0.8

0.6

Multiplier

1

0.8

0.6

0.4

0.2

0

FoM

PM, severe

PM, mild

AdM

0%

20%

40%

60%

80% 100%

RM

average force in % of MFC

Fig. 2. Multipliers of OCRA equation.

FoM = 0.83 (by interpolation). As ideal working conditions are assumed, OS is set to 18. No high repetitiveness (RM = 1) and no additional risk factors (AdM = 1) are present. The total number of

actions of upper limbs is 26 (sum of number of actions of tasks

15; see Table 1). Per minute, we get the rounded value 25 and,

25

thus, OCRA 180:70:83

2:4, which corresponds to a yellow working place.

Similar Methods. The job strain index by Moore and Garg (1995)

uses a methodology similar to that of OCRA with additional parameters speed of work Sp and duration of strain D:

The European Assembly Worksheet (EAWS) underlies ergonomics tools used by such automobile producers as Volkswagen and

FIAT and has a similar structure as some other methods applied

in manufacturing: NPW used by Opel, DesignCheck used by Daimler and IAD-BkB widely used in German metal and electrical goods

industries.

EAWS assesses postures, action forces, manual material handling as well as other whole-body risk factors and repetitive loads

of the upper limbs (for details see Schaub et al., 2010). The results

of EAWS estimation are two aggregate risk values: risk points (RP)

for the whole body and risk points for upper limbs.

The higher these risk points are, the higher is the risk of musculoskeletal diseases for a worker. It is recommended to interpret a

risk value of 025 points as a low risk zone (green), of 2650 points

as a zone of possible risks (yellow) and above 50 points as a high

risks zone (red).

Risk points for the whole body are computed from four

indices:

Risk points for each posture depend nonlinearly on frequency or

duration of the posture within the cycle time. Additional points

could be given for twisting, lateral bending and extended reaching.

Manual material handling index MMHI is a sum of risk points RP

for lifting, holding, carrying and pushing or pulling. These constituents of the MMHI as well as action forces index FI depend on the

force level multiplier FoM corrected by work conditions and duration of exposure, expressed either in duration, frequency or length

points:

280

10

11

12

13

Extra points are given to risk factors that were not or not enough

considered in the EAWS calculations above (e.g. working on moving

objects).

The second aggregate risk value of EAWS, risk points for upper

limbs, is based on force points Fo and posture points Po, that depend nonlinearly on the duration of exposure, as well as additional

points Ad. Organization specic parameters OS depend on the shift

duration, as well as duration and frequency of rest pauses within

it:

RP upper limbs OS Fo Po Ad

14

Table 5

Alternative balances of the assembly line described in Table 1 (OCRA index for the

right hand).

Station

load

First balance

Station 1:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Station 2:

6, 7

Station 3:

8, 9, 10, 11

Worst posture,

duration in

% of cycle time

Avg.

index index

force, per

%MFC minute

Elbow exion, 67 11

25

Neutral postures

1.1

20

19

19

0.98

24

19

0.52 2.0

0.86

10

12

Dorsal exion, 71 21

Second balance

Station 1:

Dorsal exion 29

1, 2, 3, 6, 8

Station 2:

Elbow exion 33

4, 5, 7, 9, 10

Station 3:

Dorsal exion 19

11

0.80 0.3

0.6

Having examined several widespread ergonomics methods, we

now formulate the following assumptions for modeling the estimation of ergonomic risks.

Let F = F(Sk) be an ergonomic risk estimation function, e.g. OCRA

index, that depends on a set of tasks Sk assigned to station k. Each

task i is characterized by the levels of exposure to risk factors, e.g.

average force applied or time in % of cycle time spent in a certain

awkward posture. The ergonomic risk evaluation function has

the following properties:

(a) Ergonomic risk of a station k does not decrease if a task is

added to it, since an alternative of any task is an idle time,

where the worker is assumed to take a neutral posture and

apply no forces (Bk = set of tasks additionally assignable to

k):

8j 2 Bk

15

non-decreasing and nonlinear in the levels of exposure.

Remark 1. Though nonlinearity complicates incorporating ergonomic aspects in line balancing models, it is a fundamental (and

intuitive) assumption which cannot be omitted as all known methods are based on nonlinear risk estimation functions. Levels of

exposure are aggregated in ergonomic risk estimation functions

by a nonlinear aggregation function in NIOSH, multiplication in

OCRA, mixture of multiplication and addition in EAWS.

3. Assembly line balancing considering ergonomic risks

Task assignment to stations can substantially inuence the level

of ergonomic risks at the workplaces, even keeping such protability parameters as number of stations and cycle time unchanged.

Moreover, since better ergonomics may also decrease the defect

rate (Eklund, 1995; Gonzlez et al., 2003) and the number of days

of sick leave, incorporation of ergonomics into assembly line balancing could even improve protability of production.

Colombini and Occhipinti (2006) report results of a manual

assembly line re-balancing, where the designer managed to reduce

the number of yellow places by 25% without increasing the number of stations and the cycle time. Let us illustrate this effect by

balancing the assembly line from Fig. 1 and Table 5. The rst balance shows substantial ergonomic risks present in all three stations: two stations are yellow according to OCRA index, station 2

shows risks for lower back revealed by the revised NIOSH equation.

The risks are due to combining tasks with exposure to the same

station. If we prohibit combination of such tasks, we can receive

the second balance that has solely green working places.

3.1. Assembly line balancing problem

The assembly line is a production system, where a set of tasks

V = {1, . . . , n} with operation times ti (for i 2 V) are distributed

among a set of (work)stations W = {1, . . . , K} arranged in a sequential

order. The workpieces are launched down the line at a xed rate

such that each station has access to every workpiece for a constant

time span. Within this cycle time c, the worker operating at the station has to perform all the tasks contained in the station load Sk V,

P

i.e., the station time tSk i2Sk t i must not exceed the cycle time

c. This process is repeated for every new workpiece cyclically.

Due to technological or organizational conditions, the order of

performed tasks is restricted by precedence relations (i, j), meaning

that a task i 2 V must be executed before another task j 2 V. The

production process can be summarized by a non-cyclical digraph

G = (V, E, t) with node set V, called precedence graph, where

E = {(i, j)ji 2 V, j 2 Fi} is the set of arcs representing direct precedence relations (see Fig. 1). Fi and Pi denote the set of direct followers and direct predecessors of task i, respectively. The node weights

represent the operation times ti. Typically, in manufacturing we

deal with mixed-model production, in such case a joint precedence

graph with average task times is to be constructed (Boysen et al.,

2009).

The Assembly Line Balancing Problem (ALBP) is to assign tasks to

stations such that cycle time and other restrictions as well as precedence relations are met and some time-, capacity-, cost- and/or

prot-oriented goals are optimized. A feasible task assignment is

called (line) balance.

The most basic and classical version of ALBP is called Simple

ALBP of type 1 (SALBP-1); it minimizes the number of stations subject to a xed cycle time (cf. Scholl and Becker, 2006). A large number of generalizations have been developed to model the

production process more realistically; they include assignment

restrictions, multiple products, parallel stations or workplaces,

etc. (cf. Becker and Scholl, 2006; Boysen et al., 2007; Becker and

Scholl, 2009; Scholl et al., 2008, 2009, 2010).

In this article, we investigate and extend SALBP-1 as a widely

known basic problem (see Patterson and Albracht, 1975; Baybars,

1986; Scholl and Becker, 2006, for its basic assumptions). Nevertheless, our ndings can be easily applied to any generalized ALBP.

281

compute the earliest station Ei and the latest station Li K, to which

task i 2 V is assignable (Saltzman and Baybars, 1987). This denes

FSi, the set of stations to which task i is potentially assignable:

FSi fEi ; Ei 1; . . . ; Li Kg . The other way round, Bk is a set of tasks

that are assignable to station k: Bk c; K fi 2 Vjk 2 FSi g .

Let xik be a binary assignment variable:

xik

0

otherwise

8i 2 V;

k 2 f1; . . . ; Kg

Chapter 2):

Minimize Kx

k xnk

16

k2FSn

subject to

xik 1 8i 2 V

17

k2FSi

8k 2 f1; . . . ; Kg

ti xik 6 c

18

i2Bk

k xik 6

k2FSi

k xjk

P Ej

8i; j 2 E with Li K

19

k2FSj

to soften individual ergonomic risks, we adjust the worker rotation

schemes.

Hence, instead of ergonomic constraints, we may introduce

ergonomic risk measures into the objective function. In order to

model the trade-off between number of stations and ergonomic

risks, we construct a multiple objective function with K(x) being

the number of stations required by balance x, n(F(Sk)j"k) being

some aggregation function of ergonomic risks, which depends on

the risk levels of the station loads and x being some positive

weight:

22

subject to (17)(20).

Of course, if it is possible to measure the economic effect of

ergonomic risks and evaluate the trade-off with the lines capacity,

then x should reect this trade-off. Otherwise, we may choose x

in such a way that the model allows a reduction in levels of ergonomic risks only if it does not increase the number of stations (lexicographical order of objectives).

Depending on the way of aggregating ergonomic risks of all stations, we develop different versions of ErgoSALBP.

If worker rotation is regularly possible, it seems to be useful to

minimize average ergonomic risks (ErgoSALBP-A with A for

average):

Kx

xik 2 f0; 1g 8i 2 V;

k 2 FSi

20

Eq. (16) is the objective function which minimizes the index of the

station to which the last task n (introduced as the unique sink of the

graph, with duration tn = 0) is assigned. It is required that each task

is assigned exactly to one station (17), whereby the station times

must not exceed the given cycle time (18). Precedence relations

are enforced by conditions (19). The binary variables are dened

in (20).

3.2. ErgoSALBP

We extend SALBP-1 by suggesting different ways of incorporating ergonomic risks. The resulting models are abbreviated by

ErgoSALBP.

The most direct approach to model ergonomic risks, stemming

directly from ergonomic risk evaluation methods that provide critical risk levels, is via introduction of ergonomic constraints. In this

case, we complement the constraints (17)(20) of SALBP-1 by constraints (21), where F is an ergonomic risk estimation function with

the properties discussed in Section 2.4 and Erg is a coefcient equal

to the accepted maximal level of ergonomic risks. The resulting

problem is called ErgoSALBP-C (C for constraints).

FSk 6 Erg

8k 2 f1; . . . ; Kg

21

However, in some cases ergonomic constraints (21) might be economically inefcient. First of all, an optimal solution of ErgoSALBP-C may require additional workstations due to tight critical

risk levels, which means a substantial increase in variable and xed

costs for the rm. Unfortunately, despite recent progress in this

direction, no widely accepted estimates of benets either to the

health of workers or to the rms economic results have been established. Due to this uncertainty and space restrictions, rms are

unwilling to increase number of working places. Secondly, generally, it is not useful to impose the same critical level of ergonomic

risks on all the stations. Consider, for example, operations on the

undercarriage in the automobile industry, which are performed in

awkward postures overhead or above shoulders. These operations

are extremely hard to combine with other tasks. We may prefer

balances with a higher level of ergonomic risks at such stations;

1 X

FSk

Kx k1

23

risks among the stations in order to distribute physical load among

workers at a similar low level (ErgoSALBP-S with S for smoothing):

sP

Kx

2

k1 maxfFSk Erg; 0g

n

Kx

24

the number of workstations with possible (yellow) and with signicant (red) ergonomic risks are seen as relevant measures to be

minimized. The levels of risk that mark the frontier between

green and yellow and yellow and red stations, we call here

Erggreen and Ergyellow, respectively. The following binary variables

indicate if a station k 2 f1; . . . ; Kg is yellow or red:

yk

rk

0

otherwise

0 otherwise

The resulting problem is called ErgoSALBP-N (N for numbers):

n xyellow

X

k

yk xred

rk

25

the introduced ones seem to be particularly suited for application

in practice as discussed above.

4. Two-stage heuristic procedure for ErgoSALBP

The different versions of ErgoSALBP are NP-hard optimization

problems, because they are generalizations of the NP-hard

SALBP-1 (cf. Wee and Magazine, 1982; Scholl, 1999; Chapter

2.2.1.5). Moreover ErgoSALBP cannot be solved by available assembly line balancing methods as, in general, it contains nonlinear

ergonomic constraints or a nonlinear objective function.

282

Therefore, we propose a two-stage heuristic based on a wellknown procedure for SALBP-1 (stage 1) and the simulated annealing technique supplemented by a local search algorithm (stage 2).

In Section 5, we show that with this two-stage procedure it is possible to achieve a signicant decrease in the levels of ergonomic

risks at low computational costs. Re-balancing belongs to the

short-term planning and solution proposals for (different) line balances are expected to be calculated in a short time in manufacturing. Therefore, the time aspect is extremely important here. Based

on a medium-term setting (given the number of stations), a rebalancing is required that optimizes the balance considering the

current model-mix in an ergonomically favorable manner.

Due to its exibility, it is possible (with minor modications) to

apply the proposed heuristic to all four (and further possible)

settings of ErgoSALBP described in Section 3.2.

4.1. Two-stage heuristic procedure for different versions of ErgoSALBP

We propose a two-stage procedure that employs the exact solution procedure SALOME (Scholl and Klein, 1997, 1999) to nd a

solution with the minimal number of stations Kinitial on the rst

stage, afterwards a simulated annealing technique is applied to improve the distribution of ergonomic risks among the number of

working stations determined on the rst stage. For ErgoSALBP-C,

if red and yellow stations are still not eliminated, we (repeatedly)

increase the number of stations and apply the second stage anew.

Simulated annealing (SA) is a heuristic method designed to

avoid getting stuck in a local optimum; it has been successfully applied to a number of sophisticated general assembly line balancing

problems (Suresh and Sahu, 1994; Kim and Kim, 1996; McMullen

and Frazier, 1998; Kaji and Ohuchi, 1999; Erel et al., 2001; Vilarinho and Simaria, 2002; Baykasoglu, 2006; zcan, 2010). Simulated

annealing received its name due to the analogy to the physical

annealing of solids (see a detailed description of the simulated

annealing heuristic in, e.g., Kirkpatrick and Gelatt, 1983; Glover

and Greenberg, 1989; Eglese, 1990).

4.2. Simulated annealing procedure (second stage)

Neighborhood generation procedure. We generate a neighbor

(test) solution x0 to the current solution x by performing a shift

(moving a task to another station) or a swap (interchanging a task

with a randomly chosen task). In order to facilitate changes in the

loads of stations with high ergonomic risks, we divide stations into

two types and assign probabilities for choosing a task from each

type of them. Thus, with probability p a task is chosen from a station with ergonomic risks exceeding the accepted level Erg and

with 1 p from an ergonomically favorable station.

Then, for the chosen task we perform a swap with probability q

and a shift with probability 1 q. In case no swap is possible at all,

a shift is performed. Both for shifts and swaps, we require compliance with the cycle time constraints (19) and the precedence relations constraints (20).

Energy function. As in stage 2 the number of stations is xed, we

use the aggregation function n of the version of ErgoSALBP to be

solved as energy function of the SA approach. In case of ErgoSALBP-N, we set the weights such that xyellow 6 Kxred in order to

initial

realize a lexicographic ordering which always prefers a decrease

in number of red stations no matter how many additional yellow stations would be needed. For ErgoSALBP-C which denes

no aggregation function, we measure the energy by some function

that denes the deviation from the specied ergonomic

constraints.

Rejection probability of the test solution. If the energy of the test

solution x0 is lower than that of the current solution x, i.e., objective

function value improves, then we update the test solution to the

the current one, we reject it with probability r increasing with

the difference in energy between the test and the current solution

dn = n(x0 ) n(x) and decreasing in the temperature level T as computed by (26).

r 1 edn=T

26

temperature level T1 = 2 so that the initial probability to accept an

inferior solution with dn = 1 is 60% and dn = 0.1 is 95%. Each time

after 500 iterations, we reduce the temperature level by 5%.

Simple local search algorithm. For each updated current solution

we run a simple local search algorithm consisting of a shifts- and a

swaps-block. In the shifts-block, we perform the shift with the largest improvement one after the other as long as an improving shift

exists. Afterwards, in the swaps-block the same is done with all

improving swaps. In both blocks we prohibit violation of cycle time

and precedence constraints.

Update of the best solution. Just after having applied the local

search described above, we compare the energy (objective function) value of the current solution with the energy value of the best

solution. If the current solution has a lower energy value, then we

store it as the new best solution. However, we do not change the

current solution for the SA algorithm, i.e. we continue our calculations with the current solution we had prior to the application of

local search. In the other case, we would push the SA closer to local optima, making it harder to overcome local optimality.

Stopping criterion. We stop our SA either when ergonomic risks

at all stations are below or equal to the acceptable level Erg since

it is the aim of any ergonomic improvement, or when the temperature level reaches a rather prohibitive level Tmin = 0.002. At this

temperature level, probability r of accepting an inferior solution

with a modest dn = 0.001 is the mere 60%. Due to these settings,

we perform at most 67,500 iterations in each run of our SA

procedure.

Increasing the number of stations (for ErgoSALBP-C only). If after

performing the SA algorithm, the best solution still violates some

of the ergonomic constraints (21), then we increase the number

of stations by one. We place an empty new station between two

neighboring stations with highest sum of ergonomic risks in order

to facilitate a quick search for a solution with all green stations.

Afterwards, we apply the SA algorithm to this extended solution.

The process of adding a station and applying SA is repeated until

no violations of (21) remain.

5. Computational experiments

We conduct two sets of experiments. First, we would like to nd

out, how large the improvement in ergonomics is that could be

achieved without increasing the number of workstations and

how large the computational costs of it are. Secondly, we examine

how many additional stations we need to bring ergonomic risks

under the acceptable maximal level in order to gure out the

trade-off between capacity and ergonomics.

5.1. Data generation

For our experiments, we use the OCRA index an extensively

published and analyzed measure for ergonomic risks. However,

note, that any other ergonomics method can be directly applied

within the described heuristics procedure and similar results are

expected.

As a basis for generating suitable test data, we use the wellknown benchmark data set for SALBP-1 (cf. Scholl, 1999, Chapter

7.1) available for download at www.assembly-line-balancing.de.

Kinitial = 6) due to very few number of tasks per station in the

optimal solutions, so that our basic data set contains 268 SALBP-1

instances with up to 297 tasks.

Following a rule of thumb in statistics that about 30 observations per cell are required (Wilson VanVoorhis and Morgan,

2007), we generated 27 replications of ergonomic parameters for

each SALBP-1 instance. In total, we constructed 27268 = 7236 instances for our analysis.

For each task in each instance, we generated values for the following parameters: frequency of actions, posture, force, repetitive

actions and additional factors (see Section 2.2 and Table 6). We

control for ergonomic risks, so that if any task is the only task assigned to a station, this station shows a risk estimation below the

acceptable level Erg.

Further, we make sure that for each instance its optimal SALBP1 solution, that minimizes the number of stations and is found in

stage 1, contains at least one station with the level of risk above

Erg. Also, assuming that all tasks imply symmetric operations for

both hands, we control for OCRA points only for one of the two

upper limbs to simplify the analysis.

To model the frequency of actions, we normalize the cycle time

to be equal to one minute in each problem set. For each task we

randomly generate the frequency of actions per minute, so that

the number of actions within a task depends on this generated

speed of work and the relative share of the task time within the cycle. For example, let for a task with task time 18 be generated a frequency of actions of 20 min1. Then, the number of actions that has

to be performed during this task is equal to d20 18

e6.

60

We model presence of additional factors, as well as postures by

three variables: Probability of presence of an additional factor or a

posture within a task and its duration within the task (uniformly

distributed between the minimal and the maximal duration value).

No task can have both mild and severe postures of the same type,

where the type of posture corresponds to the same anatomical segment of the upper limb. Conversely, execution of any task may require several postures of different types. For example, let us

generate the duration of posture A for a task with task time 18.

The probability that this posture will be severe, mild or not present

Table 6

Modeling ergonomic parameters of tasks.

Risk factor

Mild posture: type A

Severe posture: type B

Mild posture: type B

Severe posture: type C

Mild posture: type C

Additional factor (e.g. vibrating

instruments)

Repetitive action: type A

Repetitive action: type B

283

is 33% in each case (cf. Table 6). After a random generation we may

receive, for example, that severity of posture A is mild and duration

is 70% of the task time. In a similar way, we generate data for postures B and C.

Average force during a task is measured in per cent of maximal

force capacity and is randomly assigned to be equal to one of ve

values as given in Table 6.

Further, we assume that there are two types of actions (called

repetitive action in Table 6) that may lead to high repetitiveness

within a workstation. We model the frequency of such actions,

similarly to those for postures and additional factors, with three

variables probability of presence, minimal and maximal duration

within the task.

We assume an 8-hour shift and following the recommendations

of the European norm EN 1005-5, we set OS to 18, Erg and Erggreen

to 2.25 and Ergyellow to 3.5. Further, we call workstation k with

OCRA index F(Sk) 6 Erggreen green, that with Erggreen < F(Sk)

6 Ergyellow yellow and that with F(Sk) > Ergyellow red.

In the generated data set, we received about 22% yellow and 2%

red workstations on average per instance for its optimal SALBP-1

solution with average OCRA index for a station varying from 0.9

to 3.09. Received by our data generation, balances show realistic

and even rather mild ergonomic risks. The share of yellow and

red workstations in our instances roughly corresponds to the situation that we observed at automotive producers. In contrast,

Occhipinti and Colombini (2007) in their study of 22 groups of

workplaces from different industries found average OCRA index

varying from 2.8 for oven assembly to 41.7 for upholstering of

car seats. Note that higher average level of ergonomic risks in the

initial balance would even more strengthen the positive effect

from ErgoSALBP.

After initial experiments on the Lutz 1 instances with 32 tasks,

we chose the following parameters for the two-stage heuristic:

probability of a swap move q = 50% and probability to choose a task

from a station with unacceptable ergonomic risks p = 80%. For the

objective function (25), we set xred K1 and xyellow K12 with K

denoting the trial number of stations for the second stage. The

computational experiments were conducted on a 2.83 GHz, Intel

Core2 Q9550 processor with 4 GB of memory. The heuristic procedure was programmed in Borland Delphi 7.0, whereby the code

was not parallelized and, hence, utilized only one of four cores

per run.

Duration, % of

task time

Min

(%)

Max

(%)

33

33

20

20

33

33

10

50

50

50

50

50

50

50

80

80

80

80

80

80

80

5

5

40

40

80

80

In our rst experiment, we apply the two-stage heuristic proposed in Section 4 to reduce ergonomic risks without increasing

the number of stations. We run the experiments for the three variants of ErgoSALBP (-A, -N, -S) with the objective functions (23)(25)

in order to nd out, which model is best suited for risk reduction.

As performance measures, we utilize the number of yellow stations, the number of red stations, the average OCRA station index

(average risk level) and the deviation of risk values (smoothness).

Table 7 summarizes the results, which are given as per cent

improvements (relative reductions) compared to the initial (SALBP-1) solution.

At rst, we consider values averaged over the three versions of

ErgoSALBP (-A, -N, -S). We nd that, on average, 63% of the yellow

stations and 72% of the red stations can be avoided. Further, solutions only having green stations are found for 46% of the instances.

In other words, for our data set constructed with ergonomic estimations of stations very similar to those observed in automobile

industry, there exists almost a 50% chance to nd a balance with

only green stations without adding new stations, if we incorporate

ergonomic aspects into the balancing model. Of course, the model

used here is very simple and does not include zoning constraints,

Probability

(%)

Probability (%)

10

20

30

33

33

33

<1/20

1/10

1/5

1/3

1/2

40

25

30

4

1

284

Table 7

Optimization results of bi-objective ErgoSALBP.

No additional stations

added. ErgoSALBPA

Avg. improvement Number

of yellow

to initial SALBPstations

solution (%)

Number of

red stations

Avg. OCRA-index

Deviation of risks

Share of instances with

improvement (%)

Share of solutions with only green

stations found (%)

After one

station

added

Avg. results ErgoSALBPA

61 66 62 63

97

69 74 74 72

98

5 3 4 4

62 58 68 63

93 87 93 91

11

97

46 46 47 46

91

resource requirements etc. (cf. Boysen et al., 2007). However, similar results are expected, when such constraints are included in the

models.

The computation time is only about 1 second per instance on

average with a maximum of 25 seconds for some of the largest instances with 297 tasks.

For all three ErgoSALBP models, the computational efciency of

simulated annealing is about the same. There were no signicant

differences in computational times or the number of green solutions between the objective functions. In general, the objectives are

working in the same direction, trying to reduce ergonomic risks,

and their results are highly correlated, meaning that a solution

with lower number of yellow and red stations, as a rule, has lower

average OCRA index and a smoother distribution of ergonomic

risks. However, each model remains the most effective tool in

achieving its own objective. Thus, for example, ErgoSALBP-A for

70% of instances achieved the best result in terms of average OCRA

compared to average OCRA received by ErgoSALBP-S and ErgoSALBP-N.

In few cases, the effect of the objective function may be rather

pronounced. Thus, in ErgoSALBP-A, when we minimize the average

OCRA index, the heuristic may try to concentrate all the risk in a

fewer number of stations. For example, in a Lutz 1 instance (see

Table 8) the heuristic was not able to improve the risk level of

the red station, instead it created an additional yellow station by

decreasing risks in remaining (already) green ones. Further,

ErgoSALBP-N does not differentiate between stations with a higher

or lower level of ergonomic risks as long as they belong to the same

category (green, yellow or red). To the contrary, although

ErgoSALBP-S decreases risks in the ergonomically worst performing stations, it may increase risks in the remaining ones.

So, we conrm our recommendation given in Section 3.2: Due

to the similarity of results obtained by the different versions of

Table 8

Lutz 1 instance with n = 32, c = 1414, Kinitial = 11: impact of the objective functions on

solutions.

and red stations

Avg. OCRA index for

green stations

Avg. OCRA index for

all stations

Deviation of risks

Initial

solution

ErgoSALBPA

1 Red:

3.62

1.54

1 Red: 3.62

1 Yellow: 2.54

1.23

1 Yellow:

3.17

1.58

1 Yellow:

2.44

1.52

1.73

1.57

1.72

1.60

0.41

0.42

0.28

0.06

to the organizational specicities of the assembly (e.g. possibility

of worker rotation).

To check the stability of results for the two-stage heuristic, we

compared its performance on a subset of the data set in the following settings: (1) Different stopping criteria: The maximal number

of iterations is doubled from 67,500 to 135,000 iterations. (2) Instead of one run of the two-stage heuristic, we perform ve runs.

The data subset consists of 1,500 instances randomly selected from

those for which no solutions with only green stations were found

in the part of the experiment described above. The results are summarized in Table 9.

The doubled number of iterations caused about a doubling of

the computational time. Although for a few instances the larger

number of iterations almost doubled the improvement of the

objective function relative to the initial solution, for the majority

of instances no improvement was found at all. On average the performance of the two-stage heuristics remained approximately the

same.

The same holds for the increased number of runs of the heuristic. The results remained very similar on average. The average coefcient of variation for objective improvement in the best solution

relative to the initial solution, which is the standard deviation of

improvement divided by the average improvement, did not exceed

4%. Just for 4.2% of the instances, a solution with all green stations was additionally found.

The results show that the heuristic is able to nd good and stable solutions in small computation times. Only small improvements are possible by increasing the computational effort.

If several risk factors, such as awkward postures and application

of forces, are present, they multiply negative effects of each other

in the OCRA index. This observation let us suggest that a higher initial level of risks of the line balance would generally lead to a higher absolute improvement in ergonomic risks. To check it on the

data, we run ordinary least square regressions for those of 27 ergonomic instances of 268 SALBP instances, for which a solution with

only green stations was not found. In total we run regressions for

161 SALBP instances (hence, 161 regressions), which have more

than 10 observations. Since the results of different versions of

ErgoSALBP are very similar, we used results of ErgoSALBP-A. We

regressed the absolute improvement in average OCRA index

P

FSinitial

FSbest

k

k

k

against the initial level of average OCRA index

K

P initial

FSk

k

. For 94% of regressions we received positive b-coefcients,

K

which conrm our hypothesis. 95% of these regressions were signicant according to F-tests on 0.5% signicance level.

In the second experiment we used the two-stage heuristics to

nd solution that minimizes the number of stations for ErgoSALBP-C (21). Since the different bi-objective versions of ErgoSALBP in the previous experiment showed very similar results,

for our second experiment, we used the energy function of ErgoSALBP-A in each iteration of the simulated annealing part of the

heuristic, as average OCRA index is a common measure utilized

by ergonomists.

Like the previous one, this experiment required low computational costs: On average, we spent only 1.4 seconds per instance

with at most 26 seconds for an instance with 297 tasks. We had

to increase the number of stations on average by 0.7 or by 5% of

the initial number of stations to nd solutions with only green

stations. For those instances (54% of total), where an increase in

number of stations was required, we needed on average 1.2 additional stations or 9% of initial number of stations. After adding at

285

Table 9

Stability of the results for the two-stage heuristic.

ErgoSALBP

Additionally found

green solutions, % of

trials

function of the best solution (%)

solutions, % of instances

Avg. improvement of

the best solution (%)

improvement of initial solution (%)

A

N

S

0.1

1.8

1.3

0.3

4.8

2.7

1.9

1.6

4.2

0.3

6

9

4

3

3

Table 10

Dynamics of improvement in ergonomic risks with each additional station. Data for

169 instances that required at least three additional stations.

Avg. of total

normalized

ergonomic risks

P

Avg.

improvement

in total

normalized

ergonomic risks

1.92

1.85

0.07

1.75

0.10

1.71

0.05

FSk

k

K initial

Initial solution

No stations added to best

solution

One station added to best

solution

Two stations added to best

solution

only green stations was found; number of yellow and red stations were reduced by 97 and 98%, respectively, relative to the initial solution (Table 7).

For manufacturing, results from larger instances with 30 and

more stations in the initial (SALBP-1) solution are especially relevant. For such instances, where additional stations were required,

the average necessary increase in number of stations was about

4%. In other words, even if an increase in capacity is required, a

solution with ergonomic risks for all stations being under the

acceptable maximal level Erg can be found at average costs of 4%

increase in capacity.

In the previous section we have seen, that higher initial ergonomic risks generally lead to a higher absolute improvement in

ergonomic risks. This consideration let us expect that the improvement of ergonomic risks with each added station is likely to diminish. It can be seen if we look on instances that required at least 3

additional stations for the optimal solution of ErgoSALBP with

ergonomic constraints (169 or 2% of the tested instances). For

91% of these instances, the average improvement in total ergoP

nomic risks k Erg k was higher after the rst station added than

after the second. On average, the P

difference in improvement of

normalized total ergonomic risks

Erg k

K initial

station solution is about two times higher than that after the second (Table 10).

6. Summary and Conclusions

In manufacturing, control of ergonomic risks at manual workplaces is a necessity commanded by legislation, care for health of

workers and economic considerations. Methods for estimating

ergonomic risks of workplaces are integrated into production routines at most rms using the assembly-type of production. Assembly line re-balancing, i.e., re-assignment of tasks to workers, is an

effective and, in case that no additional workstations are required,

inexpensive method to reduce ergonomic risks. In our article, we

show that even though most ergonomic risk estimation methods

involve nonlinear functions, they could be easily integrated into

assembly line balancing techniques at low additional computational cost. Our computational experiments on a data set, whose

ergonomic risks resemble the situation we observed in the automobile industry, indicate that re-balancing often leads to a substantial mitigation in ergonomic risks. Thus, for 50% of instances

a balance with acceptable level of risks for all the stations was

found without increasing the number of stations. In the cases,

where an increase in number of stations was required, such a solution was found after just about 4% increase in the line capacity.

Further, our computational experiments indicate that, in general,

with each new working station the improvement of ergonomic

risks diminishes.

For a manufacturer, each additional station means a signicant

investment in equipment, increase in variable costs rst of all, in

wages, not to mention utilization of space of the factory, which is

often a constraint resource. To perform such a step, a rm has to

make a careful estimation of benets from the reduction of ergonomic risks that one or several additional stations would bring.

Assembly line balancing can give an answer, how large the expected mitigation of ergonomic risks will be for each station, as

well as for the line as a whole. The above mentioned 4% increase

in line capacity, necessary to keep ergonomic risks in a reasonable

range (green), can be used by line managers as a rule of thumb.

Currently, an intensive research is running on the overall costs

of ergonomic risks of workplaces. Although these costs are rm

specic and a lot of work here is still to be done, we have rst insights, how large such costs could be. First of all, these costs include compensation claims and medical visits of workers. Here,

Occhipinti and Colombini (2007) estimated that a 1-point increase

in average OCRA index of the assembly line leads to additional

2.39% of workers suffering from upper-limb musculoskeletal disorders. Further, these are costs from deteriorated quality of work;

Falck et al. (2010) in their 8-week study of a car assembly found

the action costs originated in yellow and red workstations up

to 9 times higher than that caused at green stations.

The methodologies and routines for estimation the costs of

ergonomic risks for a rm are being developed. A decision-making

tool consulting on the reasonable measures for ergonomic

improvement of workplaces with high ergonomic risks is awaited

by manufacturers. Assembly line balancing models that incorporate ergonomic risks will be an essential part of such a tool.

A number of questions remain for future research. Accepted

estimates or methodology of estimation of the monetary equivalent of ergonomic risks is badly needed to justify measures for

improvement in workplace ergonomics. Further, not only assembly

line balancing, but also other production routines should be reexamined in light of possible inuences on ergonomic risks. One of it

is the order, in which different models of the product are processed

in the assembly line (sequencing), and its consequences for ergonomics; namely, how the rules of sequencing should be modied

to reduce workplace ergonomic risks. Another one is distribution

of relaxation allowances these are time add-ups on the task

time for rest and breaks. Relaxation allowances, a part of predetermined time systems, are widely used in assembly line production.

These add-ups are usually calculated proportionally to the task

286

time. As a plausible alternative, we could interconnect the relaxation allowances with some estimation of the worker fatigue.

Acknowledgements

This article was supported by the Federal Program ProExzellenz of the Free State of Thuringia.

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