From Innovation to Impact: The Ergonomics Center’s Journey Over 30 Years

Join us as we celebrate 30 years of ergonomic excellence with The Ergonomics Center, shaping safer and more efficient workplaces for all.

This year marks a significant milestone for The Ergonomics Center as it celebrates its 30th anniversary. Since its inception, the Center has been a beacon of excellence in the field of ergonomics, touching lives across numerous industries and making work environments safer and more efficient. To commemorate this achievement, we spoke with former Executive Director Tim McGlothlin and current Executive Director Julia Abate to reflect on their times leading the Center.

A timeline showing the major events that have occurred during the 30-year existence of the Ergonomics Center.

Tim McGlothlin (2004 – 2020)

A headshot of Tim McGlothlin
Tim McGlothlin

McGlothlin joined the Center after working as a principal ergonomist at the Eastman Chemical Company. 

“My work as an ergonomics consultant was an amazing experience,” shared McGlothlin. “Many times when people ask me what I do for a living, I jokingly say, ‘I get paid to watch other people work!‘” Frankly, that’s not far from the truth. McGlothlin has seen everything from creating food products like french fries and pasta to manufacturing large commercial products like aircraft, aircraft carriers, and even spacecraft to the labor required in various service activities like baristas and hospital technicians.

One unique opportunity was analyzing a pending storage facility for spent nuclear waste in Yuma Mountain, Nevada. Currently, spent nuclear waste is stored in several dozen small sites across the United States. This analysis concentrated on the labor required for tunneling the storage caves within Yuma Mountain and the laboratory staff labor needed to monitor the effectiveness of the waste management process. “This site was located in the Nevada desert, approximately 90 miles from Las Vegas (near the infamous Area 51),” recalled McGlothlin. “Since this was a very secure and isolated area, we had to travel round trip each day from a Vegas hotel to the Yuma Mountain site.”

“The Center’s highly regarded reputation in ergonomics training, consultation and research drew me in,” McGlothlin shared. He emphasized the pivotal role of the Center’s affiliation with NC State University, which further heightened his interest.

McGlothlin’s tenure brought forth a wave of new ideas from his highly-regarded staff, from enhancing training content to maximizing the Center’s connection with NC State University. This synergy paved the way for increased research opportunities, including partnerships with federal agencies such as OSHA and NIOSH.

Under his leadership, significant events unfolded, including forging partnerships with industry giants like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and SpaceX. The Center’s collaboration with the Edward P. Fitts Department of ISE led to the sponsorship of the internationally recognized Ergo Cup® Competition, held annually at the Applied Ergonomics Conference.

McGlothlin’s impactful contributions extended to overseeing the development of the Ergonomics Cultural Maturity Model (ECMM), a tool designed to integrate ergonomics into company cultures seamlessly. Additionally, the Center’s comprehensive Ergonomics Resource Guide Portfolio empowers engineers and designers to incorporate ergonomic principles into their designs effectively. His journey exemplifies the breadth and depth of ergonomics applications across various industries.

Julia Abate (2020 – Present)

Julia Abate

Abate returned as the executive director in 2020 after McGlothlin retired. She had initially worked at the Center from 2006 – 2010 before moving on to SAS.

“What attracted you to the Center?” we asked Abate. With a warm smile, she shared, “There are several factors that have drawn me to the Center – twice now! First and foremost is the team of professionals on staff. If I didn’t have the utmost respect for them, I would not be here.” Abate values the diverse range of industries the Center serves, from manufacturing to pharmaceuticals. She finds fulfillment in improving lives through ergonomics, stating, “It’s rewarding to feel like you can make a life a little better for someone.”

Reflecting on memorable experiences, Abate shared anecdotes of team-building activities and client engagements. “Some of my favorite experiences have been team building with our staff,” she said. These included a behind-the-scenes tour of the NC Zoo, painting a howling wolf and touring the NC State Dairy (which included Howling Cow Ice Cream.)

Engagements with clients have included taste-testing french fries and seeing processes for building something as small as a microchip to as large as an airplane. Every experience has enriched her journey at the Center.

Abate emphasized the Center’s commitment to giving back to the profession. Many staff members volunteer with organizations like ASSP, AIHA, NSC, NC OSHERC, IISE and the Applied Ergonomics Conference, contributing their expertise to advance the field.

Innovative ideas drive progress, and Abate has successfully implemented new initiatives at the Center. “The team has worked hard for the past few years,” she explained. “We’ve been updating our resources and training materials, including developing some new workshops.” Furthermore, leveraging technology and academia, the Center is poised to release a progressive web app for common analysis tools, enhancing accessibility for its members.

As the Center celebrates its 30th anniversary, plans are underway for the inaugural Ergonomics Symposium in August. Abate expressed excitement about providing a platform for members and clients to network, share insights and explore cutting-edge research. “We’re grateful to have the support of the ISE Department, as well as our Advisory Board members, several of whom will be presenting at the symposium,” she added.

Looking ahead, Abate envisions a future where the Center thrives and expands its impact. “I would love to see more long-term partnerships with our members,” she remarked. Strengthening ties with academia and fostering student opportunities are also on the agenda, paving the way for the next generation of ergonomists.

As The Ergonomics Center celebrates its 30th anniversary, it remains steadfast in creating safer, healthier and more productive workplaces. With dedicated professionals like Abate and the team at The Ergonomics Center leading the way, the future looks promising for ergonomic innovation and excellence.