"As an engineer, I was always fascinated by the effect of bad workplace layouts and tool designs on people's physical capabilities," says Don Chaffin, professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering at the University of Michigan and founder and director of the Center for Ergonomics there. His graduate research in Industrial Engineering and Bioengineering, and a year on the faculty in rehabilitation medicine at the University of Kansas, reinforced that interest. "In a clinical setting, you see the effect of the bad situations that people are in," he says.
And, if you're Don Chaffin, you devote your career to preventing them. In his case, that has included the development and distribution of several iterations of Static Strength Prediction Programs (SSPP) software that allows employers to adapt their workplaces to the workers, rather than the other way around. The 2D SSPP was first developed in 1981 after 10 years of research, and released for commercial and research use outside the UM in 1983. Its licensing and distribution were turned over to the UM Office of Technology Transfer in 1988, and since then thousands of copies have been used around the world in industry, government and academia.
The 3D SSPP was originally released in 1991. Its current version runs on PCs, and incorporates the 2D version as well. The Center has also developed, and the OTT distributes, an Energy Expenditure Prediction Program, which complements the SSPP by estimating energy expenditure rates for materials handling tasks.
"The uses are quite varied," says Chaffin. "Some people would be interested in workplace layout, where an object that's particularly heavy should be placed. Another issue might be what kind of testing should be done to assure that people are strong enough in performing a particular exertion required in a job. That's sort of the personnel aspect. The energy expenditure program allows people to plan rest allowances or rotate workers from high-exertion jobs to more moderate exertion jobs to avoid fatigue."
Since 1990, Center for Ergonomics software has earned more than $1.2 million in royalties, all of which has been reinvested in the enterprise. "The money goes into three or four accounts within the Center which pay for maintaining and upgrading the software, and every graduate research assistant and research engineer receives funding from them," says Chaffin, "so the royalties continue to enhance our research and provide software that's up-to-date and useful for people in the real world. None of us that have been involved in this have taken any personal remuneration."
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