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Texas State University

Reducing Workplace Injuries Through Motion Sensors

While time and motion studies may not be a new research topic, the application of motion capture and motion sensors has completely changed how researchers are able to analyze human labor in the manufacturing industry. 

A cross-disciplinary study between McCoy College of Business and Ingram School of Engineering is currently looking for ways to reduce injuries associated with repetitive motion found in jobs in the material handling, logistics and supply chain industry. 

Student picking up a box

Dr. David Wierschem, Dr. Francis Mendez and Dr. Jesus Jimenez are conducting a simulation-based research study focused on the elimination of unnecessary and unsafe motions. The elimination of these motions will help to improve employee training, which will result in enhanced employee efficiency and safety, in turn leading to reduced costs in areas such as medical and workers’ compensation claims reported to companies. 

 In order for the researchers to understand what the optimal work efficiency is for a specific task, they use motion sensors that are attached to different parts of the participant’s body that are then recorded by various motion cameras while the participant completes a designated task repeatedly over a specified amount of time. During these timed runs, the researchers are looking for how the body responds to the repetitive motion of the task, as well as when the body starts to fatigue.

student picking up a box
student and professor looking at computer screen
student placing box on shelf

“This cross-discipline project is a match on how most organizations operate. In the old days you used to have the departmental silos — each department did their own thing in isolation — nowadays it is more of a collaborative effort.” - Dr. David Wierschem

 

The uniqueness of this multidisciplinary study means that each researcher brings their own expertise and perspective to the study. While Jimenez, associate engineering professor, looks at this study from the engineering viewpoint, both Wierschem, associate dean of McCoy College, and Mendez, statistics professor for McCoy College, are able to look at it from a business standpoint and understand how reducing these unsafe motions can affect the company financially.

Student and professor looking at computer screen
Students looking at computer screen

This type of research can help companies to not only improve working conditions for manufacturing workers, but could eventually help to identify issues prior to the implementation of the manufacturing design by simulating the possible work-related injuries it may cause, thereby reducing probable injuries or strain on workers. This particular study can not only be applied to the manufacturing industry, but a multitude of other fields as well.

Companies like Ford, Toyota and other big manufacturing businesses understand the importance of this type of study and are working with researchers on ways to reduce repetitive motion injuries. Recently, Wierschem accepted a $197,000 grant from Toyota to continue exploring ways to reduce these injuries. All three researchers are excited about the grant and believe it will help them on their mission to create safer work environments. 

FUTURE IMPACT

Improved Training

Efficient task design & movement planning

Reduced Musculoskeletal Disorder

Worker - dependent ergonomic motion ranges