The Center is also the vehicle through which knowledge transfer can occur. Knowledge transfer occurs between the many stakeholders in the ergonomics community and the Center. For example, when partnering with the scientific community, the Center will assimilate, support, and generate new methods for data collection and analysis. With industry, trade associations, and employee advocates, the Center will provide a conduit through which answers may be obtained to technically difficult questions.
The Center’s ability to assimilate new data collection techniques, equipment, and processes into the research lab or workplace setting to meet the needs of our clients is an asset. Our purpose is to provide answers to the technically difficult questions that are asked about the manner in which people interact and react to products and processes.
The research component of the Center is continuously assessing the current problems facing our stakeholders. As the Center meets the needs of our members, this flow of information is continuously streaming through our Ergonomic Services and Membership outreaches.
Aging and Hand Tool Design
The American population is undergoing a profound change; within the next ten years the first of the baby boomers will turn 65. It is expected that number of Americans age 65 and older will more than double to over 70 million by 2030. Baby boomers are expected to push off retirement or start second careers maintaining active and meaningful lives into their later years.
The research, which is the basis for many workplace design principles and concepts, has often been conducted with students or workers in the traditional range of 20-50 years of age. Some research even limits subjects to a young or middle age bracket, because researchers do not want their results confounded by age. As a result, it has become important to study and understand the work-related capabilities and limitations of people in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, so that work can be designed in a way that promotes the health, well-being, and productivity of this important and growing segment of the workforce.
More specifically, aging has become an issue in maintenance and construction industries that require intensive hand tool use. While some general ergonomic guidelines exist for hand tools, there is little known about how aging plays a role in hand tool design.
An experiment is currently underway to understand how grip material, texture, and age impact hand grip during hand tool use. The goal of this research is to create guidelines for designers to maximize grip and comfort in their products with the aging workforce in mind. Subjects will perform three simple tasks using the hand tools (socket wrench, pliers, hammer). Subject recruitment is designed to target individuals aged 18 to 75 years old. Perceived exertion, comfort, and user preference will be collected along with objective measures including muscle activity data from three muscles (forearm and hand) using surface electromyography and wrist kinematics using electrogoniometers
While the study is in progress, there are no results to date. However, it is expected that grip material, texture, and age will have a significant main and interactive effect on muscle activity, perceived exertion, comfort, and user preference.
Personal (Exoskeleton) Assist Review
Every company is looking for an edge over its competitors. One such edge is to make a quality product cheaper, faster, and with less human effort. And with today’s high-tech gadgets, there are a number of assist devices that may help you achieve these goals. Hence, an automotive manufacturing client requested that we conduct a market, material and ergonomics literature review on personal assist devices (focusing on exoskeleton assists). The purpose of this project was to provide a first-level review of available literature/information to locate and synthesize devices that may relieve the burden off automotive assembly operators, especially while manually lifting and positioning parts (e.g. glass windows).
The project consisted of the following activities:
- Primary searching of databases of peer-reviewed journals (Web of science, ergo abstracts online, Compendex, ergo index, design and applied index)
- Keywords included: exoskeleton, arm support, body support, powered exoskeleton, hybrid assist devices, force amplification, ergonomic interventions, static loading, military exoskeleton, gait walkers, rehabilitation assists
- Primary web engine searches (e.g. Google, Google scholar, and WorldCat) of grey literature, popular press articles and market material
- Additional grey literature sources included: user product blogs (to capture vital information about both existing and products in development), technical publications, and university research websites.
Findings and Results
A summary and product fact sheet document was developed and presented that summarized the devices for the full body, upper extremity, and lower extremity, and non-exoskeleton assist devices. Following each summary sheet, individual pages providing product specific details (contact information, target market, design purpose, product specifications, advantages and disadvantages) were provided with photos for clarity
Office Ergonomics Literature Review
A client requested that the Center review the ergonomics literature pertaining to five specific areas in the office environment and generate a “white paper” to document current research and standards. Ergonomic recommendations regarding these components of the office environment are not found in any one study or current book making assimilation of data and recommendations difficult for the layman.
The purpose of this project was to review and summarize available ergonomics literature, specific to five key areas in office ergonomics and produce a document highlighting current research and outlining standards for these areas in the office environment:
- Video Display Terminals (VDTs)
- Input Devices (including keyboards and mice)
The scope of the project involved the following activities:
- Strategy development, keyword brainstorming, search design and planning
- Primary searching of databases, list reduction, identification of central articles
- Collection of central articles
- Review of central articles
- Secondary searches and collection of additional literature
- Research synthesis
- Development of the white paper
- Internal white paper review
The literature search made use of research databases and searching capabilities of the Center. It was expected that the search list would be reduced to approximately 20 central articles in each of the five areas. A maximum of approximately 40 central articles in each of the five areas would be reviewed for the development of the white paper.
The white paper would include a summarization of the findings of the literature such that recommendations for office environment layouts and setups could be made including, but not limited to, ranges of adjustability and positions of individuals relative to their environment and office equipment.
Findings and Results
These five target areas constitute the foundation of the physical office environment. The prevalence of ergonomics research concerning these target areas emphasizes the importance of these office components. However, simple ergonomic recommendations regarding these components are not found in any one study. Just as it is difficult to identify an object from a series of detailed photographs, it is difficult to identify ergonomic solutions from a series of specialized research studies. The large quantities of ergonomics literature taken individually generate a confusing and sometimes contradictory view of office ergonomics solutions. When considered together, certain trends and solutions emerge in the literature. The paper has been crafted to alleviate confusion by presenting a unified view of current office ergonomics literature.
It was noted in the white paper that the work of researchers is far from complete. The trends and solutions presented were only preliminary resolutions of current office ergonomic issues. It was also noted that future research must be continually synthesized and the important findings added to the models presented in the paper for the work to remain viable. An explanation of scientific terms and methodologies was included to help readers assess the quality of future research and interpret future research results.