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In order to deliver suitable design solutions, a design engineer
has to consider a wide-range of infuential factors. The ergonomic
value of a product is certainly one of the issues that needs to be
addressed. Less experienced designer could encounter several
problems in order to fnd an ergonomically appropriate design
solution (Skeppera et al., 2000). Although the existing ergonomic
Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software, as discussed in Section 2,
can provide some assistance during ergonomic design evaluation,
the designer still has to possess substantial experience and
knowledge in the feld of ergonomics. This is in order to choose and
carry out adequate design actions for improving the ergonomic
value of a product within a reasonable time.
Product ergonomics is an interdisciplinary scientifc discipline
(Fig. 1) concerned with the understanding of interactions among
humans and other elements of a system. In this context, the user
plays a central role during a product development process. Product
ergonomics applies theory, principles, data, and methods for optimising
humans well-being and overall system performance.
The ergonomic quality of a product can be defned by a match
between anthropometric data and formal attributes. However, the
quality of ergonomics is not only based on anthropometrics, as the
feld of human factors has been realising over the past thirty years
(Kroemer et al., 2003). Cognitive and experiential processes play
a major role in deciding whether a design is usable, effcient,
satisfying, easy to use, or comfortable.
Several different factors such as functionality, posture and
muscles, irritation and pain in hands and fngers, irritation of hand
surfaces, handle characteristics, and aesthetics, defne the feeling of
comfort/discomfort (Kuijt-Evers et al., 2004), which makes it hard
to describe in formal manner. Comfort is a key feeling from the
users point of view, and several studies have introduced mathematical
models of the relations between human perception, human
characteristics, and workplace structures, using fuzzy logic
(Hanson, 2003).
On the other hand, an ergonomic solution should not adversely
affect the other characteristics of a product. Among others, ergonomics
is very much connected to the aesthetic appearance of
a product, and seeking an optimal balance is a delicate matter (Liu,
2003a). Exactly that kind of skill a good designer needs to have:
fnding the optimal balance between the two aspects.
In order to support a decision making process when performing
this task, the prototype of an intelligent advisory system, briefy
presented in Section 3, is being developed. In the continuation of
this paper we will concentrate on ergonomic part of the system.
Ergonomic design knowledge is discussed in Section 4, by
presenting the important ergonomic design goals and corresponding
design recommendations.We have limited our research
to a certain group of products e namely hand tools, as representative of ergonomically very important products that
manipulated by upper-extremities such as several household
appliances, etc.
A case study of this knowledge base application is presented
in Section 5, and the concluding remarks are given in the last
2. Existing ergonomic CAD tools
In the feld of ergonomic CAD, the development process has
mainly focused on integrated tools based on the three-dimensional
modelling of a product, and the human body that enables the use of
ergonomic data originating from various sources when performing
ergonomic analysis of the product (Kaljun and Dolsak, 2004). This
enables a designer to use a single analysis/simulation tool for
evaluating and assessing clearances, reach, visual requirements,
and postural comfort, at the earliest stages of design (Karkowski
et al., 1990). Moreover, it makes it possible for a designer to
incorporate the important features into the designs, thus minimising
the risk of discomfort, or even injuries, long before a person
ever physically encounters the product or the workplace that is the
subject of its development.
Using an interactive interface, designers are able to manipulate
both the human form and the product design (Porter et al., 1999).
Two different approaches have been taken for developing such
software tools (Feyen et al., 2000). One approach is oriented
towards the development of so-called stand-alone ergonomic CAD
software with ergonomic assessment capabilities and a built-in
three-dimensional CAD module. The alternative approach leads to
the development of compatible ergonomic software based on
special modules that enable ergonomic analysis within commercially
available CAD systems, which are used to provide threedimensional
modelling and user interface.
Some of the better-known representatives of both groups of
ergonomic CAD software are presented in Table 1.
In the continuation of this section, a more-detailed description
is given emphasising some application characteristics for each
group, in a separate sub-section.
2.1. Stand-alone ergonomic CAD software
Stand-alone ergonomic software is applied independently of the
other CAD software used during product development processes.
Thus, the user must learn the terminology, command structures,
and modelling techniques that are usually different from those in
commercial CAD systems. Fortunately, many of these systems have
the ability to import those geometric models modelled in other
CAD tools, where the complexities of the models can be taken into
The working environment is composed of the product model
and the model of a human that is assigned to perform a virtual
application of the product (Gill and Ruddle, 1998). After the
modelling/import is fnished, the parameters for various ergonomic
analyses are set, and the analyses are carried out. Evaluation of the
analyses results is the next step in the design process, where
ergonomic satisfaction with the product needs to be evaluated. If
remodelling of the product is needed, the whole cycle is repeated
until the resulting model of the product satisfes the ergonomic
criteria. Even then, certain changes may still be necessary in order
to improve other design requirements as for example, aesthetics,
manufacturability, etc.
2.2. Compatible ergonomic CAD software
Compatible ergonomic software has been designed for access
within available commercial CAD systems, as for example (Launis
and Lehtela, 1992) and (Davidoff and Freivalds, 1993). These tools
refect the advantages of the designers familiarity with the
terminology, techniques, and command structures of commonly
used CAD programs. The main advantage of these tools is the
application of a single geometric model for all phases of the
design process, which prevents most problems concerning data
Similarly to the application of stand-alone ergonomic CAD
software, the development process starts with a concept design
and usually an ergonomically-imperfect design candidate, which
represent the starting point for a compatible ergonomic CAD tool.
An exact three-dimensional virtual model of the product is
modelled using a geometric modeller of the commercial CAD
software. When the model is fnished, the ergonomic tool is run
within the commercial CAD system, where the working environment
and human model are prepared. The modelling is followed by
assigning proper values to the ergonomic analyses parameters. In
the next step, ergonomic analyses are carried out. Immediately
after the results of the ergonomic analyses are evaluated, The
product can then be redesigned and remodelled in order to correct
any eventual ergonomic imperfection.
Alternatively, the process can be continued towards other
analyses that need to be carried out for the model. The result of
such multi-criteria analyses (Kostanjevec et al., 2009), conducted
within a single software environment, is a fnal design solution for
a product that fulfls all ergonomic, mechanical, and other demands
and conditions.
Fig. 1. Interdisciplinary nature of ergonomics.
Table 1
Representatives of ergonomic CAD tools.
Stand-alone ergonomic CAD tools Compatible ergonomic CAD tools

3. Intelligent support to ergonomic design process

Various advanced approaches have been investigated for
improving the product development process, such as those reported
in Brunetti and Golob (2000) and (Kremljak et al., 2005). The
need for the integration of ergonomics into product design has
been evident for quite some time now (Nagamachi,1995). However,
the need for knowledge-based decision support within an ergonomic
design process has been defned more recently. It is based on
the cognition that conventional ergonomic CAD tools do not meet
the expectations of design engineers. Whilst they offer reasonable
levels of support during various ergonomic analyses (Butters and
Dixon, 1998), they fail to provide any kind of meaningful advice
from the engineering point of view in terms of design recommendations,
that would lead to better ergonomic values of products,
when appropriate.
In order to overcome this bottleneck and to round off a cognitive
cycle (Gielingh, 2008) for the continuous improvement of a products
ergonomics, we have developed a prototype of an intelligent
advisory system Oscar, based on expert design knowledge
A possible logical framework of ergonomic knowledge
management has been proposed by Du et al. at a Computer-Aided
Industrial Design & Conceptual Design conference in 2009
(Du et al., 2009). In the proposed framework, the aesthetic
appearance of the product was ignored as an infuential parameter,
which however is not the case in our system, as presented in Fig. 2
(Kaljun and Dolsak, 2006a). Oscar is namely composed from two
sub-systems that can be applied in three different modes. They can
be used independently from each other, or simultaneously and
interdependently during the same design project.
In the simultaneous mode, the task of the inference engine is not
only to derive and propose recommendations for both ergonomic
and aesthetic design improvements, but also to synchronize and
harmonize possible design solutions, in order to fnd the optimal
balance between the two aspects of the product being developed.
The third use, possibility, is to preform evaluation of the
product regarding the ergonomical or aesthetical aspects of the
design. In this case, the inference engine of the system uses
knowledge from the knowledge bases, in order to determine
whether the design solutions are acceptable for specifc aspects of
the design.
Oscars knowledge bases store expert knowledge regarding
ergonomic and aesthetic design processes. Ergonomic knowledge
base especially, has to have access to a large amount of anthropometrical
data (knowledge). In order to overcome data
management problems, Oscar presents anthropometrical data
from separate anthropometrical database when needed. As
a concrete example: Oscar presents anthropometrical data from
Table 2 after the inference engine derives the needed information
for anthropometrical database query. The result of the query is
then stored in Oscars work memory as case specifc data, to be
used during further inference processes and fnally presented to
the user.
The intelligent decision support system Oscar is still a research
prototype and, as such, the subject of intensive development,
especially the more subjective part of its system dealing with
engineering aesthetics and aesthetic ergonomics (Liu, 2003b). On
the other hand, the ergonomic part of the system, which is based on
a more objective ergonomic design knowledge built into the
knowledge base of the system, is functional and thus, discussed in
more detail during the continuation of this paper.
4. Ergonomic design knowledge
The main focus of ergonomic design is the compatibility of
objects and environments with human factors. It seeks to harmonize
the functionalities of the tasks with the capabilities of the
humans performing them. Ergonomic design knowledge is extensive
as it considers, not only anthropometrics and biomechanics,
but also cognitive issues. For this reason, it was decided to limit our
research to the ergonomic design of hand tools (Kuijt-Evers et al.,
Similarly to some other products that are manipulated with
upper extremities, static and dynamic anthropometry, biomechanics,
and the anatomy of the human hand (Fig. 3) needs to be
taken into consideration (Cacha, 1999).
Development of a knowledge base relating to the ergonomic
design of hand tools has been carried out in three steps (Kaljun and
Dolsak, 2006b). First of all, all crucial ergonomic design goals were
defned by studying literature, and interviewing some human
experts. In the next step, these goals were associated with those
respective design recommendations that ensure a certain goal is
accomplished. The knowledge acquisitionwas again a combination
of a literature survey and the transfer of human knowledge and
experience. In the last step, the collected knowledge was organized
and written in the form of production rules, to be used by the
intelligent system.
Different classes are interconnected with various attributes and
their values at the head of the rules in order to describe case
Table 2
Anthropometrical recommendations.
Attribute Value
Handle cross e section Round or oval
Handle diameter e power grip min. 32e45 mm
Handle diameter e precision grip min. 7e15 mm
Handle length min. 100 mm
Handle length e with gloves min. 114 mm
Pistol grip handle angle 7_e10_
Finger clearness min. 35

specifc situations, in which those recommendations for product

design, as listed in the body of the rules, should be taken into
consideration as, for example:
Type is Hand tools for specifc tasks
Contact Element is Grip
Trigger Style is Palm push button
Ergonomic goal
Reduce tissue compression
Design Recommendations
Design contoured handle
Use triggers of adequate length (thickness)
Design oval/elliptical cross-section of the handle
Avoid sharp edges
The following sub-sections present the most important ergonomic
design goals and respective design recommendations
relating to hand tools. The rule shown here is an example of how
this knowledge is encoded in the system and refers to the case
study discussed in the next section of this paper.
4.1. Dimensions and confgurations
In order to defne the appropriate dimensions and confgurations
to be respected during hand tools design, the anthropometrical
data relating to the human hand, are transformed into
design recommendations (Table 2).
Fig. 4 shows, in a graphic form, the recommended dimensions
for a handle that will be used in the next section as a case study.
4.2. Maintain neutral straight wrist position
All movements of the wrist, especially those cases of extreme
movements, in connection with repetitive fnger actions or prolonged
forceful fnger exertions, place extensive pressures upon the
fexor tendons passing through the carpal tunnel. This may cause
infammation of the tendon sheath and pressure upon the median
nerve and, as a consequence, even serious injuries. Bending the wrist
whilst performing a task that requires repeated rotation or twisting
of the forearm, can also stretch and pull the tendon joint at the
elbow. Repeated stress at this joint can cause irritation and swelling,
leading to so called tennis elbow. When the wrist is straight, the
tendons can easily slide through the sheath. It is thus very important
to maintain the wrist in a neutrally straight position.
Design recommendations:
_ Use the pistol grip for those tools used on vertical surfaces. The
type of grip used depends on the work pieces height.
_ Use the inline cylindrical grip for those tools used on horizontal
surfaces. Again, the type depends on the work pieces height.
For example, the pistol grip is suitable for a horizontal work
piece at a femur level.
_ Use deviated handles that maintain a straight wrist, for tools
doing specifc tasks (Fig. 5).
_ Provide adjustable handles for tools that are used in several
different positions.
_ Use power tools instead of traditional tools for tasks that
require highly repetitive manual motions.
4.3. Avoid tissue compression
Local pressure upon the tissues of a palm or fngers may cause
a loss of circulation, damaged nerves leading to tingling fngers;
or damaged tendons or muscles leading to pain and diffcult hand
movements. This unsuitable pressure is caused by insuffcient
handle length (thickness) or hard surfaces on the handles.
_ Use handles of adequate length (thickness) that span the entire
_ Use padding to soften the handles surface.
_ Use contoured handles which spread the pressure over a larger
area (Fig. 6).
4.4. Reduce the excessive forces
Exertion of high fnger forces, either prolonged or repetitive, can
stretch and in turn fray tendons. This kind of damage can make it
diffcult for the tendon to slide through the tendon sheath, which
can lead to further irritation and swelling, which can lead to
a restriction of the tendons movement through the sheath,
eventually causing a so called trigger fnger. A combination of both
repetitive and prolonged motions can especially lead to permanent
disorders, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Excessive forces may also overload the muscles, thus creating
fatigue and the potential for injuries. Highly repetitive tasks which
may not use such a great force can also cause irritation. Contact
with sharp the edges of tools or bending the wrist, greatly increases
the hazard associated with the use of forceful fnger exertions.
_ Use power grips (Fig. 6) instead of forceful pinch grips with
straight fngers. More force can exerted with the power grip
than the pinch grip.
_ Use the appropriate grip size. In order to generate the greatest
grasping force, design objects to a size that permits the thumb
and forefnger to overlap slightly.
_ Reduce the resistance of tool activators (triggers, trigger lockers
_ Use the alternative non-mechanical triggers (vacuum, optical
_ Increase leverage within the tool. Add more fulcrums. Extend
the lever arm.
_ Improve tool balance. Reduce tool length. Locate heavy masses
such as motor, battery, etc. as close as possible to the wrist.
_ Where a relatively large force is needed to activate the tool
(hydraulic or pneumatic power tools), use trigger levers for
more fngers instead of a single point trigger for spreading the
_ Avoid sharp edges on triggers and handles.
_ Locate the second handle near the front end of the tool in order
to spread the exertion between both hands. In this way the
control of heavy tools and those tools operating with a large
torque, is also improved.
Increase the contact friction on handles by using slip resistant,
nonporous, and slightly compressible materials.
_ Use a collar where the force is applied coaxially to the handle. It
may reduce the grasping force.
_ Use expanding springs to prevent the constant need for
opening handles.
_ Use power tools instead of traditional tools for those tasks
which require highly excessive motion.
4.5. Ensure proper height for the task
Working in a position that imploys the elbow to be raised and
maintained above shoulder height for prolonged periods, can
trap the nerves and blood vessels under the bone and muscle,
which leads to a numbness and tingling in the hands, and can
fatigue the muscles of the shoulder and upper arm. It is therefore
required to design the tool in a way that ensures a proper height
for the task.
_ Design the tool handles and other features to ft the proper
working height level.
_ Reduce muscle exertion and improve control over the
_ For heavier manual work with heavy power tools, design the
tools for use at the hip level, with the tool close to the body and
the angle between the upper arm and the forearm within
a range of 90_e120_.
_ For precision work with lighter tools, design the tools for use at
the elbow level and higher.
_ Use extended poles for work above the head.
4.6. Protect against vibrations, heat, noise
Local vibrations may cause circulation disorders, white fngers
or other serious cumulative trauma disorders. Enhanced noise may
increase fatigue and stress; and may cause hearing problems. The
hands may be affected by vibrations within the range of 1,5e80 g
and 8e500 Hz.
_ Improve the overall tool design by taking into account natural
frequencies in order to decrease vibration distribution from the
motor or other sources of vibration into other connected parts
and handles.
_ Use isolation mounts such as springs and silent rubber blocks
between individual parts.
Fig. 9. The results of the system e the degree of accuracy: general ergonomics.
Fig. 10.

_ Use dampened tool handles.

_ Use damping materials on a handles surface.
_ Use heated handles where needed.
_ Cover the hot parts of the tool, such as the motors.
_ Clean and adjust power tools periodically.
Remark: sound (noise) is a consequence of vibrations, actually
those vibrations transferred from the tool into an air and then into
human ears; therefore the same recommendations can be used
analogously for decreasing the noise level.
4.7. Reduce static load
Holding the same position over a period of time can cause pain
and fatigue. The primary problem is the duration. However, the
negative infuence is additionally increased by high force or an
awkward posture.
_ Reduce the weight of the tool.
_ Use tool supports.
_ Improve tool balance. Reduce tool length. Locate heavy
masses, such as motor, battery, etc., as close as possible to the
4.8. Cognitive ergonomics
Cognitive ergonomics deals with the mental interrelationship
between the human and the product. The goal to be achieved by
using design recommendations is to prevent mental overload and
misunderstanding when using a certain product e in our case the
hand tool.
_ Use a red colour for switch buttons or for warnings and
_ Use vertical switches with the following meanings: up-ON,
_ Turning a dial to the right increases the speed, torque or
_ Use numbers: 1-slow.10-fast.
_ Use the right hand to operate the trigger and other controls