Sep 17, 2015 | By Kira

The Japanese term of ‘poka-yoke’ refers to a particular, lean-manufacturing process that helps operators avoid product defects or oversights that could lead to unnecessary mistakes. In short, it means to mistake-proof a process—a sort of built-in function that would prevent us from ever scrambling to hit ‘control Z.’ In a video released today by Graphics/Systems, social enterprise Beyond Vision shows how they are combining the ‘poka-yoke’ philosophy with 3D printing to assist their blind employees.

The Wisconsin-based manufacturing company is dedicated to providing opportunities to sustainable employment to visually impaired Americans, and with their new 3D printing techniques, they have managed to increase productivity by an impressive 20%. The idea is simple: the 3D print customized, mistake-proof fixtures that can only be assembled one way, ensuring that the operator’s job is done correctly every time. The pieces, which are 3D printed using Stratasys FDM technologies, are cost-efficient solutions that ensure a high level of quality control for the manufacturer, while still opening up new job opportunities for the visually impaired.

In the short video, President and CEO of Beyond Vision Jim Kerlin explains several real-world examples of how the technology has benefited their employees, from mistake-proofing switch assembly fixtures, to attaching labels into sunken cavities on their socket sets. Another potentially life-saving use of the technology is to 3D print hand-held models of the manufacturing space in order to show blind employees the correct escape routes.

An employee's hand is guided along a 3D printed replica of the manufacturing space in order to learn emergency escape routes

The company had seen how 3D printing was being used in conventional manufacturing environments, and realized that, given their need for more elaborate and blind-friendly fixturing, 3D printing would allow them to take poka-yoke further than ever before. “It really takes on a whole different level of meaning for us,” he explained. “We’re all about creating job opportunities for people who are blind and I’d love to see a day when we’re doing enough 3D printing for ourselves and for other companies that we can actually create a blind job, or two, or three, and turn this into another way that we can extend our mission.”

In the past, we have seen several 3D printing initiatives dedicated to improving the quality of life of the visually impaired through education—particularly in the form of tactile books and visual aids, however these are often targeted at children rather than those who have already entered the workforce and must accommodate themselves to potentially challenging or unforgiving jobs. What makes Beyond Vision’s, well, vision, stand apart, is that their fixtures actually accommodate the visually impaired, rather than the other way around. 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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