What characterises a specific type of work? How can we design working processes in order to maximise the performance and minimise the workload? How do we organise work to facilitate execution and avoid repetitive strain injuries leading to early retirement? These are questions that Johan Karltun, Associate Professor in work organisation, addresses in his research.
Johan’s research focuses on different types of industrial work and aims to identify possible improvements, using as a point of departure the conditions within which a specific industry operates.
– The industry is what it is and we cannot intervene so as to alter its conditions. Instead, we have to identify the aspects of the work environment that we can affect to be able to organise work in the most efficient way, says Johan.
The past few years, Johan has researched into the development of meat-cutting work. Meat cutting is heavy work, which often leads to musculoskeletal disorders. The research focused on the amount of time spent working with different tasks as well as the effect of rotation schemes implemented to reduce the individual’s total workload.
– We also examined knife sharpness. The sharper the meat cutters’ knives, the less force is needed to cut. By teaching the meat cutters how to keep their knives sharp, hopefully we can somewhat reduce the physical strain, says Johan.
A third issue that Johan has investigated is what is usually referred to as the “speed/accuracy trade-off”, i.e. the inevitable trade-off between speed and accuracy. The higher the work pace, the poorer is the accuracy of the work. Johan’s research shows that an increased work pace does not necessarily entail increased profits. On the contrary, you run the risk of “cutting away profits”, as Johan puts it.
– Each day, a meat cutter cuts meat with a value of around 100,000 SEK. Thus, a few minor mistakes with the knife can quickly lead to meat worth the equivalent of the meat cutter’s daily salary going to waste, Johan explains.
Johan and his research colleagues have also carried out extensive information work in order to gain acceptance of the research results among industry actors. He is of the opinion that the industry is in part susceptible to the research results, even though they have their own ideas about what generates the most profit.
In the past, Johan studied different types of work within the woodworking industry and the work of production planners. In other words, his research involves industry sectors that are rather different from one another, but the focus has always been on work and its characteristics.
– There is knowledge on how to organise work efficiently, but there are still many executives who are unaware of this, Johan claims. In addition, these questions are often not prioritised, since other criteria are used to measure success, such as short-term economic key figures.
Johan Karltun has been working at the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management at the School of Engineering, Jönköping University, since 1999. In 2007, he received his PhD on business development from the Department of Management and Engineering at Linköping University.