Equipment ergonomics = productivity

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Many people think this is how farm machinery manufacturers make a better ag power unit: put in a bigger engine, add some cool guidance tools and machine productivity software, throw in a bigger hydraulic pump and maybe add a couple of power take-offs.

But putting all the power and tools together in the right places and in the right way is key to getting the most hours out of the one part of the machine that can’t be improved upon: the operator.

“Ergonomics isn’t likely what you think when you talk about farm machinery, but a lot of work goes into making all that power as useful as possible,” said Kyle Dooley of CNH.

Dooley told the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers in Louisville last month that effective design in farm equipment ensures that producers can comfortably work longer hours and more safely.

“When one thinks of ergonomics, one might be thinking of a pseudo science of the 1980s. Like astrology, except less useful,” he said.

“My definition is that if a human touches it, ergonomics is involved.”

He said many of the modern elements of machine cabs were de-signed around humans rather than technology.

“Moves to touch screens and other technology such as seating, heat and cooling, controls and lighting allow people to interact with their machines,” said Dooley, a transplanted Canadian kinesiologist.

“Ergonomics is optimizing industrial engineering. Human involvement is everywhere on a farm, more than any industry.”

In 1900, 38 percent of North Americans worked to feed the rest of the population. Today, three percent feed 97 percent.

“That is done with technology. What it has also done is put a great deal of responsibility for food production and a lot of risk in the hands of fewer and fewer farmers,” said Dooley.

He said CNH has 2,000 engineers developing 160 products for 40 lines of business.

“We have three folks working on ergonomics. And that is actually pretty good compared to some companies.”

Dooley has worked on the CaseIH Magnum, Steiger and Puma tractors, AFX combines, New Holland Boomer tractors, New Holland CR/CX combines and FR forage harvesters.

“We take a lot from military research, where seated operators are expected to perform at high levels for long periods of time,” he said.

“That’s where we got GPS and touch screen technology, too.”

Designers use real people wearing digital exoskeletons to create virtual machines.

“Then a prototype is built and we begin testing our designs. We had a group of farmers design the (control handle) in the new tractors. They got to feel how it would work and make sure we built it from their point of view,” he said.

“And there might not be one right answer for a design. Sometimes it is a brand’s tradition that sets out the way something might be built.”

For instance, the hydraulics have a knob in a Case IH tractor while the sister New Holland machine has a sliding switch.

“If we build the machines right, then farmers can work longer and more productively with less lost time to injuries and stress,” he said.

“That means they are more profitable and more food gets produced.”

He said current designs on the drawing boards have more cameras and bigger mirrors, but there will always be room for the human element.

“We still need to keep the feeling of operations alive. It has been found that in remote, unmanned machine operation, that operators’ visual systems are over-taxed because a single sense is over-used. People are able to work better if they can feel, hear and see a machine, than if all they can do is see it run.”

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