Human Factors: Maximizing Comfort and Productivity

By Brian Yauger
Jambar Contributor

Ergonomics is a part of the ever-growing engineering field. Sometimes referred to as “comfort design,” ergonomics aims to develop better solutions for humans in their everyday lives with designs that maximize production by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort.

Examples of ergonomic design include items such as a special keyboard for users with carpal tunnel syndrome and lumbar support on a chair. Something as simple as changing the scroll speed on your computer mouse is also considered an ergonomic design.

This spring, some of the YSU engineering students worked in groups to create ergonomic projects. James Liakaris, an industrial and systems engineering major, worked on a lifting project with his group to study the benefits of an improved work area.

“Most of the work done was heavy lifting, so we plan to improve the work space by making the workbench lower so the workers do not have to lift the heavy material as high and using carts to help transport the material instead of the workers carry back and forth,” Liakaris said.

The possibilities of designing for the human form are limitless, whether it’s something as simple as a chair with added support or something more expansive like a full driver’s seating arrangement for a train.

“The coolest thing I’ve seen done was by a colleague of mine,” said Rory McDonnell, mechanical engineering instructor at YSU and the quality and continuous improvement manager at Taylor-Winfield Technologies, Youngstown. “She was involved in the ergonomic design of a high speed train cab – where the driver sits, doing all the reach studies, the layout of controls, how compatible it was with human expectation and designing it in the best possible way so the driver wouldn’t have any issues controlling the train.”

McDonnell has had six and a half years of experience working with Taylor-Winfield Technologies.

“One project some of my students worked on in the past that was really interesting was about repetitive lifting and moving of parts,” McDonnell said. “Some students get company sponsors where they’re an intern and do the project there, and the company gets the benefit out of it.”

Another project one of his students worked on was the changing of colored dyes in a factory setting.

Another term for ergonomics, according to Professor and Coordinator of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Youngstown State University, Martin Cala, is “human factors.” This is the term Cala prefers due to the co-opting of the term “ergonomics” by many TV ads that advertise adjustable features.

“The three areas of human factors are the biomechanical, the physiological and the psychophysical,” Cala said.

“Biomechanical means things like body measurements and designing so that everyone fits in a chair. Physiological is to make sure that the work that we design for people, that they’re not only able to do a task once, but they’re able to do it frequently and they won’t end up with cramps from lactic acid,” Cala said.

Cala says the psychophysical aspect is based on the person’s feelings towards an object.

“If a person likes the feeling, color or how hot or cold something is,” Cala said. “If someone is assembling parts in a factory, and making something by hand and using tools, the temperature in the room needs to be comfortable. Those kind of things make up the psychophysical aspect.”