It’s impossible to open a product brochure or attend employee orientation at even the smallest job shop without hearing the word “ergonomics.” The International Ergonomics Association (IEA) describes it as “derived from the Greek ergon (work) and nomos (laws) to denote the science of work,” but this doesn’t explain very much. After all, most people are familiar with the term from ads for office chairs or knife handles. In reality, however, ergonomics is one of the most important aspects of industrial design, especially in fields like manufacturing that involve repetitive movement and often heavy, unwieldy parts.

Manufacturing has a reputation as a dangerous profession, but like many other forms of manual labor, the real danger is a form of musculoskeletal disorder called cumulative trauma disorder. The repetitive stress caused by vibrating machines, lifting heavy objects or performing the same actions over and over again quickly add up. But despite the Greek name and scientific language, designing products around the human body can be relatively simple – and even beautiful.

One clear and obvious line of development for any ergonomic system is simply removing the human factor altogether. One example from REGO-FIX is the powRgrip system, which can be integrated with an automated pre-setting system and automated tool carts for completely unmanned toolroom management. For smaller shops, the PGU 9500 automatic clamping unit replaces the repetitive action of using a handpump with a single press of a button.

Most manufacturers will be familiar with the range of ergonomic factors that were considered in the design of their equipment, even if they don’t recognize it at first. CNC units, once built directly into the machines, now swivel out to prevent operators from bending or twisting their body to use it. Stair steps and openings have been configured to be at an optimal height for most operators to reduce the amount of bending or stretching required to load and unload parts or clean the machining envelope. Even status lights have grown more prominent to prevent operators from needing to cross an entire production facility to see whether their machine has had a fault.

As the world becomes more ergonomically friendly, however, engineers and designers have strived to make their products beautiful as well as functional. A manufacturing facility is no longer just a series of gray boxes – machine tool companies have gone so far as to hire supercar designers for exciting new takes on machine enclosures. The powRgrip clamping units, for example, promote ergonomic use with several design features – the eye-level clamping module, the simple gauges, the purpose-built cleaning tools – but they’ve also been made to be attractive devices in their own right, with a modern, curved enclosure in bright colors.

Of course, the field of ergonomics extends beyond the physical – the IEA, for example, also focuses on cognitive and organizational ergonomics. If you want to make your shop more ergonomic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a large collection of free resources at OSHA.gov. Remember – a safe shop is a profitable shop!

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