What are time and motion studies?

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Understanding time and motion studies

Time and motion studies are attempts to optimize repetitive manual activities. They involve systematic consideration of the process by which the activity is performed with the intent of speeding it up by eliminating activities, getting them performed in a better order, or speeding them up.

It was common at the start of the 1900’s century as management sought to increase the productivity of the workforce. Frederick Taylor was one of the individuals most associated with the practice.

Components of time and motion studies

While there are lots of different approaches that can be taken to implement time and motion studies, they largely focus on timing the different components of a particular manual task, and with a specific view on the ones consuming the largest time period, considering if those components of the process could be done quicker. Often tasks would be broken up – with specific individuals focused on an individual component of the overall production activity.

Are time and motion studies still relevant today?

Time and motion studies got a bit of a bad reputation – largely associated with trying to squeeze every drop of productivity from workers. Focusing on only a very small component of the production activity was seen as potentially dehumanizing, and the emphasis was placed on management optimizing the workforce, rather than leaving the approach up to the worker.

However, while there are certainly components of time and motion studies that can be criticized, considering the best approach to conduct manual activities is still important. Indeed broader concepts such as design for assembly takes this one stage further and considers if the assembly of goods can be optimized further by specifically designing goods that are easy to assemble. While it is now recognized that there are a broader range of things that are important beyond simply optimizing production time, there is still consideration given to what is the best assembly approach. 

The principles of time and motion studies can also be applied when considering automated assembly. Indeed, automated assembly is perfectly repeatable, does not get tired or bored, and thus in many ways is well suited to time and motion studies. Systematically considering which aspects of automated process can be sped up or optimized can thus allow production times to be reduced.

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