Gilbreth’s Motion Study

Frank B Gilbreth and his wife Lillian M Gilbreth contributed a great to the motion study. Mrs. Gilbreth training as a psychologist and Mr. Gilbreth’s engineering background fitted them in a unique way to undertake the work involving an understanding of the human factor as well as knowledge of material, tools and equipment. Their activities cover a wide range, including noteworthy inventions and improvements in building and construction work, study of fatigue, monotony, transfer of skill and work for the handicapped and the development of such techniques as the process chart, micro-motion study and the chrono-cyclograph.

In 1885, Gilbreth as a young man of 17 entered the employ of a building contractor. Gilbreth began by learning the bricklayer’s trade. By the beginning of the century Gilbreth was in contracting business of his own. From the very beginning Gilbreth had noted that each craftsman used his own peculiar methods in doing his work and that no two men did their job in exactly the same way. He also observed that the workers did not use the same set of motions.

The bricklayer, for example used one set of motions when he worked rapidly, another set when he worked slowly and still a third set when he taught someone else how to lay bricks. These observations led Gilbreth to find the “one best way” of performing a given task. He made photographs of bricklayers at work, and from the study of these photographs he continued to bring about increased output among his workers.

Gilbreth invented a scaffold which could quickly and easily be raised a short distance at a time, thus permitting it to be kept near the most convenient working level at all times. This scaffold was also equipped with a bench or shelf for holding the bricks and mortar at a convenient height for the workmen. This saved the bricklayer the tiring and unnecessary task of bending over to pick up a brick from the floor of the scaffold each time he laid one on the wall.

Formerly bricks were dumped in a heap on the scaffold and the bricklayer selected the bricks as he used them. He turned or flipped each brick over in his hand in order to find the best side to place on the face of the wall. Gilbreth improved this procedure. As the bricks were unloaded from the freight car, Gilbreth had low priced laborers sort them and place them on wooden frames or “packets” 3 feet long. Each packet held 90 pounds of brick. The bricks were inspected by these men and placed on the packet side by side, so that the best face and end were uniformly turned in a given direction. The packets were then placed on the scaffolds in such a way that the bricklayer could pick up the bricks quickly without having to disentangle them from a heap. He also placed the mortar box on the side of scaffold, so that the bricklayer could pick up a brick with one hand and a bowel full of mortar with the other at the same time.

These changes, along with others developed by Gilbreth increased the amount of work which a brick layer could do in a day. Gilbreth also established a production planning department, improved the tool room and studied the flow and handling of materials by constructing a scale model of the factory and movable models of the machines. He first used the process flow chart in this connection. He also designed work tables of the proper height and also provided chairs for the workers. He made use of the newly designed “skid & lift” truck method of mass handling.

Gilbreth has made some 200,000 feet of film (for factory work related motions) during his professional career.

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