by Thomas Wailgum

A New Frontier in Ergonomic Product Design

May 15, 20042 mins
Data Center

Ergonomic design software is in the toilet?literally. In what may be a classic example of technology gone too far, Osaka Gas Co.’s Homepro subsidiary has applied to a bathroom environment a heart rate prediction model of Osaka’s Cups (comfort, usability, performance and safety) system. Why, you might ask? The Japanese company’s “Physical Demand Simulator in Bathroom” tool simulates how blood pressure and muscles are affected when users get up from the toilet seat?essentially trying to gauge stress levels for Japan’s geriatric bathroom-users in an effort to help toilet designers and manufacturers devise ergonomically friendly commodes. Osaka’s Cups system integrates software called Jack from UGS PLM Solutions, a subsidiary of EDS that is being acquired by a private equity group. Is Jack up to the tough task? “The software generates human performance models, looking at injury risks, strength capabilities, comfort and vision analysis,” says Ulrich Raschke, manager of human simulation products at UGS PLM Solutions.

Osaka is also using Jack to see how a homemaker operates in the kitchen. The eventual goal: data provided by Cups will help manufacturers and designers create products and layouts that reduce the stress of certain movements. For example, Jack simulates the motions as a homemaker retrieves a bowl from the refrigerator, washes dishes or moves her head as she lights a burner on a stove. Along the way, Jack also simulates her vital signs. As a result of the simulations, Osaka discovered that all of the homemaker’s actions can be accurately accounted for in nine basic movements. (We gather that tripping over the family dog with a pot full of boiling water was not one of them.)

Jack is hard at work at more than just toilet and kitchen ergonomics. Companies including Ford, Deere and Pratt & Whitney put Jack through his paces to come up with better ergonomic designs for cars, lawn mowers and aircraft parts. Now, about that cramped airplane bathroom….