Ergonomics Play Major Role With Equipment Productivity

September 2011, Vol. 66 No. 9

Manufacturers of construction equipment today are committed to “good” ergonomics, and they actively promote ergonomic features of their products in sales and advertising efforts.

Sales personnel and sales literature often identify specific ergonomic features and explain their benefits; other products simply are labeled “ergonomically friendly”, a description that can seem as ubiquitous relating to equipment as “all natural” is to foods.

Broadly defined, ergonomics is “the science of work,” says Prof. Alan Hedge, PhD, CPE, director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University.

“For construction equipment,” Hedge explains, “ergonomic considerations involve studying what a machine will be expected to do and the places where it will work in order to design a machine that takes into account the physical and mental abilities of people who will operate it, in order to maximize the equipment operator’s comfort, health and productivity.”

In the past, Hedge says, designers of equipment followed an “outside-in” (OI) approach to design with placement of controls and the operator’s station one of the last considerations. The OI approach, he says, emphasizes engineering convenience over operator comfort, often resulting in design compromises regarding the operator work station or compartment, controls and displays.

Ergonomic design reverses this process by taking an “inside-out” (IO) approach. Designers begin with the operator compartment or work station. Controls and displays are designed for the needs of the operator -- then designers work out to develop the form of the machine or vehicle.

Better approach
“The result of an IO approach,” says Hedge, “is equipment that is built around the operator’s needs in terms of anthropometric dimensions, task requirements and comfort. The goal of the IO approach is to maximize operator comfort by minimizing discomfort and accident risks, while at the same time maximizing productivity by optimizing task-cycle times, paralleling functions and maximizing vehicle usability by designing for ease of use, reduction of training time and facilitating skilled operation.”

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Critical areas for ergonomic design include:

• Operator compartment or station;
• Design and placement of controls;
• Design and visibility of displays; and
• System integration to ensure all design elements must fit together.