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What is ergonomics in design? The growing importance in plastic industry

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What is ergonomics in design? The growing importance in plastic industry

Authored By: SDI Plastics

Ergonomics refers to the practice of designing products and systems that optimise human well-being and overall product performance. In today’s product design landscape, considering ergonomics is crucial for creating user-friendly, effective products that don’t cause undue physical stress or discomfort.

The plastic manufacturing industry has seen rapid changes and evolution over the past few decades. Plastics now play an integral role in almost every sector imaginable, from consumer goods to aerospace technologies. 

This ubiquity means that plastic products impact people’s lives daily. In a city like Brisbane with a strong manufacturing industry, plastic goods make up a sizeable portion of exports and contributions to the local economy.

Given how extensively plastic is utilised, integrating ergonomic principles into the design process has become increasingly critical for plastic manufacturers. Ergonomics ensures that plastic products are tailored to end-user needs while allowing manufacturers to reap competitive advantages. 

Read more to learn more about the meaning of ergonomics, its emergence in plastic product sdesign historically, and its manifold benefits for both producers and consumers today.

Understanding ergonomics

Ergonomics refers to the scientific discipline focused on interactions between humans and the designed objects, systems, and environments they use. The term itself stems from the Greek words “ergon,” meaning work, and “nomoi,” meaning natural laws. In essence, ergonomics aims to optimise how people interface with workplace tools, equipment, and furnishings to maximise safety, efficiency, and comfort.

While ergonomics principles have been applied unofficially throughout history, the field only gained formal recognition in 1949, when UK psychologist Hywell Murrell coined the term. Through the 1950s and 1960s, ergonomics spread in popularity within industrial design and engineering circles. Professionals began realising that adjusting equipment and workflow designs to human capacities and preferences helped boost employee satisfaction and productivity.

When applying ergonomics specifically to plastic product design, some key goals include:

  • User-centred design: gearing the product’s form and functions towards end-user needs and capabilities.
  • Adaptability: Allowing features like adjustable parts or settings so users can customise products to fit their requirements.
  • Intuitiveness: ensuring users can quickly understand how to correctly and safely use the product.
  • Efficiency: designing products that smoothly integrate into workflows and minimise unnecessary effort.
  • Comfort: reducing strain, fatigue, and other unpleasant side effects from normal product use.

The role of ergonomics in design

Ergonomics ultimately aims to craft solutions tailored to the people using them. Consistent application of ergonomic principles during the design process directly translates to positive outcomes in several spheres once products hit the market:

Usability

Well-executed ergonomic designs are inherently easier to use. Adopting a user-centred approach allows designers to empathise with end-users and pinpoint areas for improvement early on. Ergonomic products tend to require less physical and mental effort on the user’s part thanks to carefully considered elements like product shaping, interface layouts, clearance space, etc. Enhanced ease of use is hugely beneficial for consumers, who get to enjoy the full functions of an efficient, frustration-free product.

Safety

Design flaws that lead to accidental misuse or overexertion during normal operation can seriously endanger users. Ergonomic analysis helps recognise and eliminate such design gaps that compromise safety. For instance, ergonomically angled handles can prevent slipping, accessible controls can avoid awkward postures that strain joints, and demarcated grips reduce the risk of finger pinching. Avoiding these pitfalls helps consumers work more securely.

Productivity

The less effort users have to spend learning and struggling with an unfamiliar product, the faster they can become productive with it. Ergonomic refinements like thoughtful component organisation, one-handed operability, non-slip surfaces, reduced vibration, and other ease-of-use optimisations let users comfortably adopt workflows that best suit their needs. With greater control over customising and streamlining repetitive tasks, consumers can unlock new levels of efficiency.

Well-known companies that have invested substantially in nailing down ergonomics in their offerings include Apple, Microsoft, BMW for example. Premium ergonomic features play no small part in building their globally recognisable brands revered for flawless user experiences.

Ergonomics in the plastic industry

Plastics have unique properties like durability, weight, and flexibility that have facilitated their use across sectors. The manufacturing process generally starts with selecting an appropriate polymer resin, followed by altering it into the desired shape using techniques like injection moulding, blow moulding, thermoforming.

Ergonomics comes into play right from the early stages of the design phase. When drafting models for a new plastic product, engineers and designers have to make several considerations that influence the eventual user experience:

  • Material: choice of plastic resin and additives that offer suitable hardness, texture, density, and flexibility for the product’s purpose. Materials like polythene offer ergonomic advantages.
  • Weight: keeping products lightweight for easy portability and minimal strain over extended use. Strategic material thinning can optimise heft.
  • Shape: designing appropriate contours, finger grooves, angled handles tailored to the human grip and movement patterns. 3D modelling aids visualisation.
  • Balance: Distributing weight strategically so products feel stable during intended activities. Plastic strength allows counterbalancing.
  • Safety: Ensure there are no sharp corners or edges that could scrape skin or cause puncture injuries. Add safety latches if needed.
  • Accessibility: Place buttons, interfaces, and grips conveniently according to importance and frequency of use.

Carefully executed ergonomic design gives plastic products innate usability advantages even before the final finish and branding touches. Products that feel naturally easy to hold, carry, and operate can transform the user experience and market reception.

The growing importance of ergonomics in plastic manufacturing

Various trends in the modern marketplace and manufacturing landscape are putting ergonomics squarely in the spotlight when designing plastic wares.

Sustainable design

With environmental consciousness growing among consumers, manufacturers are targeting sustainability with eco-friendly materials and longer-lasting construction. Ergonomic features directly contribute to extended product life spans if users can continue to derive complete utility without discomfort or changes in workflow.

Smart plastics

Tech-enabled plastics embedded with sensors and electronics are gaining traction. However, increased functionality necessitates ergonomic forethought so users can access advanced options. Augmented reality interfaces or voice controls for complex menus require hardware shapes to facilitate usage.

Globalisation

Exporting products worldwide means accommodating an impressive diversity of cultures, preferences, and use cases. Emphasising universality and customised ergonomics helps products resonate across demographics.

Quality control

Higher production and stricter regulatory quality standards boost product performance, durability, and safety. This makes ergonomics all the more mandatory, as subpar design lacking usability considerations quickly gets called out. Competition is forcing even budget manufacturers to optimise ergonomics.

Customer expectations

Thanks largely to the user-centric design thinking permeating industries today, customer expectations keep increasing. Buyers want products perfectly contoured for daily use with zero discomfort. Premium brands known for ergonomics help raise the bar across smaller manufacturers too.

Ergonomics and plastic manufacturers in Brisbane

Brisbane has built up advanced capabilities across plastic moulding and product manufacturing. The city’s expertise spans construction supplies, automotive components, biomedical wares, electrical parts, agricultural equipment, and more. The top players driving innovation here include composite material leader Axieo, medical device veteran Baxter Healthcare, and packaging giant Amcor.

Local manufacturers are already beginning to realise the importance of human-centred design. For instance, Amcor has an entire Design Innovation Centre dedicated to collaborative prototyping with partners to test ergonomic profiles. 

Safety equipment manufacturer MSA promises next-gen designs tailored to Australian anthropometrics, protecting workers better. Many companies are also adding virtual reality tools to simulate usage scenarios and catch issues early.

Special recognition is due to the ergonomic advances coming out of Brisbane’s revolutionary “plastic manufacturers.” For over 15 years, the company has relentlessly perfected its automated precision moulding to produce affordable plastic products benefiting various niches. 

Their garden soil scoops have built a cult following thanks to thoughtfully sculpted curves that fit most grips comfortably during repeated use. Additionally, their customisable storage container collection lets buyers mix and match lids and bases in the perfect sizes to organise fridge space ergonomically.

Challenges and opportunities

Adapting an ergonomic mindset still poses some definite hurdles for plastic product creators.

  • Increased costs: Extensive user testing and design iterations needed to perfect ergonomics can hike development budgets. Advanced equipment for prototyping and simulation also demands investment.
  • Design constraints: Accommodating ergonomics means potential compromises on aesthetics or reducing feature scope to avoid complicating usage.
  • Proving ROI: The tangible ROI from enhanced comfort and usability is difficult to quantify compared to straightforward metrics like unit production costs. This can discourage management buy-in.

However, overcoming these challenges presents game-changing opportunities as well.

  • Product differentiation: Excellent ergonomic design offers direct competitive edges that are tough for rivals to imitate. Better real-world usability provides ammunition to stand out.
  • Expanded accessibility: Every ergonomic refinement extends products’ usefulness to wider audiences facing limitations like reduced strength and vision impairments. It unlocks new demographics.
  • Injury reduction: Evidence-based ergonomic interventions demonstrate immense potential to minimise workplace-related musculoskeletal disorders. This benefits employee wellbeing and insurance costs.

Additionally, emerging technologies will unlock superior insights into user requirements and validation techniques.

  • Augmented reality: AR simulations can mimic product use constraints during testing to catch issues. Designers can study hand motions and pressures visually in realistic settings without costly physical prototyping.
  • Big data analytics: Aggregated marketplace usage data tracked via smart sensors and the Internet of Things can reveal unexpected insights around behaviours, customisation needs, and design improvements.

In conclusion

Ergonomics’ role in enhancing plastic products’ real-world usability and safety is gaining rightful attention from manufacturers and regulators alike. 

Integrating ergonomic design principles from the initial conceptual stages can be invaluable for companies to carve out market leadership. When customers can feel incremental improvements in comfort and efficiency during their daily activities, it cements durable brand loyalty.

As Brisbane’s plastic exporters aim to broaden their global footprint, focusing on idiosyncratic local ergonomic needs gives them an edge. Plastic manufacturing leaders in the city have built commendable internal capacities already. 

Further investing resources in ergonomic R&D will amplify any advantages. Adopting emerging technologies like AR and IoT will support data-driven resolutions customised for niche demographics.

With the worldwide demand for ergonomic plastic goods projected to grow rapidly, Brisbane is well-poised to steer this wave of innovation. 

It may require some organisational realignments initially, but the long-term dividends in both market share and community well-being make ergonomics a worthy investment. The future looks promising for local manufacturers bold enough to venture ahead decisively.

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