Unexpected Ergonomics

Vitruvian Man

They call themselves the Ergorines. It’s a portmanteau for Ergonomic Wolverines. Led by faculty advisor and assistant professor Dr. Bochen Jia, the Ergorines are a team of engineering students at University of Michigan-Dearborn competing in Auburn Engineer’s annual Ergonomics Design Competition for Student Teams.

When you think about ergonomics you probably think of comfortable chairs. And that’s not surprising given how much time we spend sitting down. Anyone who has ever spent hours in a stiff seat can relate. In fact, a review of data from 18 studies involving nearly 800,000 people found that the average person spends between 50% and 70% of their time sitting down. We are just a tad bit slothful.

But what about people who don’t spend their days at a desk and computer? As an example, how much research has actually been completed into the ergonomics of working in an animal shelter? How could their tools and equipment be improved?

For their submission, the Ergorines asked just that question. Working with the Taylor Animal Shelter in Taylor, Michigan, the team set out to assess and innovate. Local animal control officers invited the students to shadow their day-to-day work to better understand how they really interact with the tools they have to do their job.

We spoke with student team member Shreya Naik about their experience. She shared that the team was dejected, yet hopeful, with the situation they found. The personal protection equipment was inadequate to say the least. It restricted mobility and was generally very uncomfortable to use. Officers made the best of what they had. Now, this was an opportunity for innovation in engineering and the team got to work.

Final problem proposals were submitted in October. The teams were then put through a 48-hour, non-stop final design problem to test their ability to execute on the fly as a cohesive team. The problem was unrelated to their initial problem proposal. Host firm Auburn Engineers will announce the finalists (based on various scoring criteria throughout the rounds) this upcoming Monday, November 30th.

For a more in-depth story of the team’s work at the Taylor Animal Shelter, they’ve documented a bit of their work thus far (PDF).

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