The paper deals with the problem of assigning jobs to operators in contexts where the operators are not fixed on a single position, but rotate, by travelling on foot, between different stations. The objective is to jointly consider the need for minimising the operators' walking costs, expressed as both unproductive times and physiological costs, and the ergonomic risk of the scheduled jobs and their combinations. A new optimisation-based methodology is presented by developing a systematic procedure for input data analysis and an original mixed-integer linear programming model which minimises the cost of walking (or the total metabolic cost) by considering workplace safety and physiological needs. Finally, the proposed optimisation approach has been applied to a case study from the plastic industry. The obtained results allow to draw some interesting conclusions about the impact of ergonomic aspects on the optimal assignment of jobs to operators. Moreover, the importance of reducing unproductive times (i.e. walking times) and, if possible, improving the design of manual tasks (e.g. lifting operations) is highlighted by showing that even small ergonomic investments may lead to significant cost savings.
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PRODUCTION RESEARCH
worker assignment, optimisation, ergonomics, linear programming, walking cost