Buying a workbench may seem simple, but there are many variables to consider.

Purchasing a workbench may at first seem like a simple task. Your employees have work to do, and they need an efficient, comfortable, and practical place to do it. But behind that deceptively simple proposition lurk many variables that must be considered to make sure you get what you actually need.

Employee needs vary widely among industries and applications. What’s perfect for an automotive dealership won’t work in a laboratory. What works for manufacturing facilities won’t fly in a classroom. So, whether you are looking for technical workstations, height-adjustable workstations, assembly workstations, industrial benches, or packing and shipping benches, take the time to perform the upfront work before you buy. This step-by-step self-examination will help you choose the right workbench for all your needs.

The Number One Consideration

One overriding consideration will affect every aspect of your workbench purchasing decision: What work will you be performing on it? The answer will affect everything from the size of the bench t0 the surface material, storage requirements and ergonomic considerations.

Once you determine what will be done on the bench, analyze the tasks associated with the work and make a checklist of features needed to perform them. For example, say you’re in the business of assembling and maintaining cell phones, and you need to furnish a workspace for your repair technicians. You want a small workbench, perhaps one that is height-adjustable to bring a detailed repair job up to an optimal work distance. Along with the workbench, you will need excellent lighting. You’ll likely also need bins above the work surface to provide direct access to small parts, and an articulating arm that can hold assembly guidelines or diagrams. Depending on the flow of your repair operations, you might want to consider a conveyor workstation, both of which can cost-effectively expedite material handling.

Employee Needs Vary Widely

Or maybe you’re working in a pharmaceutical lab, where the work surface material becomes a more important part of the decision. Depending on the liquids and solids you’re handling, you might want either a stainless steel or epoxy resin chemical-resistant work surface for durability. If your laboratory is in a clean room, your workstation will need to meet certain health and safety standards. You might also need to store small beakers, instruments, and large testing equipment – requiring a variety of storage spaces above and below the work surface.

An electronics assembler has different requirements. “All the workstations are electro-static dissipative, so they are an ideal solution for every department,” says Bob Smith, production manager for Automated Circuit Design. “In the kitting area, technicians can safely work with ESD-sensitive components; and in the assembly and production departments, every technician can perform the most precise processes effectively. The workstation provides the lighting needed to perform every task with attention to every detail. Additionally,  the substantial shelving [provides space] to set up stations for testing completed products.”

Sizing Up the Solution

The size of your workbench is determined by a number of factors. First up is how much space is available in the work environment – how big a footprint will the bench occupy? Because today’s modular workbenches maximize use of vertical space, you may not need as big a workbench as you think. Next, how much work surface does your application demand, both in terms of width (left to right) and depth (front to back). Does the entire work surface need to be within easy arm’s reach? Can you position items above the work surface on a vertical accessory system for easier access? Will you be working with large equipment or parts? If so, you may not only need a larger work surface but might also need to factor in the weight-bearing capacity of your workbench.

After thinking about size and footprint, you should consider whether your company’s work flow is best served by a group of workstations laid out in a particular configuration. Some companies offer modular workstations that accommodate different configurations, and thus different types of work flow. Use a design that positions your team for maximum efficiency.

If you’re operating with a progressive work flow, you may want to configure your workbenches to create an integrated, moving production line. Flow racks can then be used to stage and deliver parts using gravity, reducing material handling time, point-of-use storage and costs.

If your team functions in cells or groups, it may be served best by different shaped configurations that encourage easy communication. Some workstations are available in modules, so they can easily be combined to create everything from in-line and in-line back-to-back configurations to T-, U-, X-, and Y-shaped configurations.

Finally, consider mobile workbenches. Equipped with smooth-rolling casters, mobile workbenches are easily relocated. This will accommodate shop floor changes and simplify cleaning activities.

“We took advantage of Lista International‘s mobility option to further meet our needs for flexibility- so important when we change shifts or applications and want to reconfigure the flow lines,” says Bill Hartman Sr., an industrial engineer with medical device manufacturer Nonin Medical Inc. “Lista‘s smooth-operating casters allow two people to rearrange the production floor in just minutes.”

Everything in its Place

Spend some time doing some careful planning to get a workstation that exactly addresses your storage needs with little or no wasted space. Simplify your storage decisions by reducing the items being stored to only those that directly address your workbench applications.  When doing your planning exercise,  consider the size, shape, weight, quantity, and fragility of the items to be stored, as well as how accessible they need to be, and how much security they demand.

Do you need a home for shipping documents? A bar code scanner? Test equipment? Small parts? Tools? There are plenty of options for storage above and below the work surface, including plastic parts bins, shelving, and drawers. After determining exactly what needs to be stored, zero in on making the work space more efficient. Create a designed storage location for every item. Modular drawer interiors can be configured in an almost infinite number of layouts. This high level of organization is particularly important if different people are using the same workbench at different times. Time savings are maximized and inventory control becomes a non-issue.

Let There Be Light

The lighting needs for different tasks are an important consideration. Does each station need separate lighting? Does the room itself have lighting deficiencies? Does the lighting cast unwanted color? If you need to equip your workbenches with lighting, are you technicians best-served by overhead fluorescent lighting or a swing arm that can be easily positioned or moved out of the way when not needed? Do you need an accessory that can diffuse the light and reduce glare?

After you weigh your lighting needs, consider your electrical requirements next. From clean rooms to quality control departments to research and development, having a convenient source of p0wer at each workbench can be essential. There are diverse options to consider- from power beams and air beams to air supply brackets and cable management accessories. You can narrow down to the necessary few by asking the right questions.

First, consider the applications. Will each workbench be the home to a computer monitor and other computer equipment? Do you need a data beam? Will the tasks at hand require compressed air? What is the source of that air? How many outlets do you need at each workbench and how much power? Where should the outlets be positioned? Do you require a ground-fault circuit interrupter to protect against shock? Consider cord management, both from an aesthetic point of view, as well as the safety factor. To keep power cords from becoming trip wires, cable trays may be needed.

The Right Accessories

Think about the impact that accessories might have in improving the employees’ job functions. No matter what the task, there’s an accessory to help get the job done more efficiently and conveniently. By taking advantage of the abundant vertical space above the work surface, and the many interchangeable accessories available, you can create a highly efficient work center that is tailored completely to the jobs being performed in the work space. Examples include shelving for manuals or instruments, parts bin rails, a monitor bracket or a keyboard holder.

At Arizona’s Mazatzal Casino, technicians use Lista computer workstations to monitor banks of slot machines. Above the work surface, the benches feature Listas’a Nexus system accessories, including a reversible white board and tack board, a grounded outlet to power computers and tools, and a storage shelf to hold manuals, personal effects and cleaning products. The accessories make it easier for the technicians to use the computers to log their data in the system.

It is essential to factor in ergonomics to improve safety and productivity. To minimize stress and strain for seated employees, a 30.5-inch work surface height will accommodate 99.5 percent of all male and 99.9 percent of all female workers. The optimal work surface height for standing employees depends entirely on the work being performed. Precision work usually requires a higher surface, while heavier work demands a lower surface.

If different shifts are using the same bench, or if different tasks are being performed on the same bench, consider an adjustable-height workstation. With the turn of a crank or a motor drive, the work surface can be positioned anywhere from 25 to 41 inches above the floor.

Most companies have multiple departments, from manufacturing to testing to shipping. Consider using a common workbench platform throughout the facility to gain such benefits as better utilization of inventory, easier reconfiguration, interchangeability of accessories, and aesthetic appeal.

Standardization allows efficient swapping of accessories among departments and facilitates adjustments if tasks change. Colors and designs match, and there are no surprises when employees shift to a different department.

Tom Buechele, associate vice president of facilities, operations, and planning at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, believes in standardization. “Most of our classroom furniture is Lista. In fact, we have Lista worktables in almost every department,” he says, “We’ve also purchased a range of Lista storage equipment, including different size cabinets that are used as student lockers, sliding door cabinets with counter tops that serve the dual purpose of storage and work space, and the Storage Wall System for the lithography area. I don’t think there’s a department that doesn’t have at minimum, a Lista cabinet.”

Design standardization is important, but the quality and durability of the workbenches and other furniture were also key considerations. “Schools are a very hard environment for furniture, especially where students are constantly using the table to perform different tasks,” notes Buechele.

If you need help in your quest for the perfect workbench, Production Automation offers planning assistance to guide you through the process and advise you of the most appropriate choices. Services such as surveys and CAD drawings can make the process painless.

© Assembly. James Anderson, Vertical Market Manager, Lista International