Design for everyone using digital human models


Everyone is different, some people are tall and others are short. We have different proportions; two people of the same length probably don’t have legs and arms that are the same length. That is why it is important that a product or work place is designed with diversity in mind, and this is something which is not always done today. Doctoral student Erik Brolin has, together with Chalmers and the University of Skövde and Fraunhofer-Chalmers Centre for Industrial Mathematics, collaborated in several research projects. In the projects, a computer program has been developed which makes it possible to virtually study if a planned work place or product is suitable for different people.

Erik Brolin

In his doctoral dissertation entitled Anthropometric diversity and consideration of human capabilities – Methods for virtual product and production development, Erik Brolin has focused on the development of methods to be able to create different digital human models which represent the diversity, movement and strength of human bodies.

“My research is about how in product and production development, it is possible to put more emphasis on human diversity, i.e. the target group for the product or work place being developed. As more and more of today’s product and production development use computer programs and digital tools, we have developed a new computer program called IMMA – Intelligently Moving Manikin, which makes it possible to study virtually to see whether a planned work place is suitable for different people or if it needs to be redesigned, so-called ergonomic simulation. This, in turn, minimises costs for both strain or occupational injuries at the same time as comfort and ergonomics are optimised” says Erik Brolin.

In his research, Erik has developed methods to create different digital human models which represent the diversity which exists when it comes to body size but also mobility and strength. Erik has focused on the models being both general and flexible. The idea is to be able to predict the values for a large number of a person’s body measurements based on the values provided by just a few measurements.

“Depending on the type of product to be evaluated, different types of human models must be created. The methods which are developed to create the models need to be both flexible but also reflect the human body accurately. As lots of products today are targeting a global market, it is important to be able to use the data from various populations to be able to create correct models” says Erik Brolin.

Erik’s models are implemented in a newly developed interface which has been made to fit in the development processes which are used in industry. Users of the program can, in a simple way, make rather advanced things as the program calculates automatically. To succeed in this research, Erik has worked with the key concept of “flexibility” and “it must be easy to do it right”.

“My research results show that the methods which are often used in industry today do not take human diversity into consideration. Emphasis is put on the differences in body length and not the differences in proportions. This is however something that we have known about for some time and there are methods and guidelines for how to work but they can be very complicated to use. At the same time, the present programs for ergonomic simulation are not adjusted to the methods and guidelines which do actually already exist. There are several gaps between research, industry and existing tools. The results of my studies show that the methods I have developed are much better at taking human diversity into account than the methods which are used today. It has also been proved that the methods are better and more flexible than previous methods which have been presented in the scientific literature” says Erik Brolin.

This is an example of research which is used today in, among other things, the motor industry. Volvo Cars, Volvo AB and Scania have also participated as industrial partners in the research project.

Erik Brolin will be presenting his doctoral thesis Anthropometric diversity and consideration of human capabilities – Methods for virtual product and production development on 8th April at 10.00 in the Virtual Development Laboratory at Chalmers University of Technology. After his defence, Erik is planning to stay on at the University of Skövde and work with both research and teaching. He also has plans to continue doing research within the same area.

“The IMMA program is developing all the time and there are plans for several research projects. I am going to carry on evaluating the methods and interface which I have developed. Data from body scans will be included in the program; this is something I haven’t yet focused on in my research. Hopefully, this will be done in collaboration with the University of Borås which conducts a lot of research on textiles and clothes, which is a completely different area in which my methods can be used. In the future, I would also like to test the methods and tools that I have developed in more dire situations via research or in “real” work in industry” says Erik Brolin.

Erik has conducted his research studies at Chalmers University of Technology at the Department of Product and Production Development but during this time he has been stationed and worked at the University of Skövde. Between 2009-2013 he was part of the IMMA research project and from 2013 he has been part of the CROMM – Creation of Muscle Manikin research project which ends in the autumn of 2016. In 2015 Erik took part in the Virtual Driver project which focused on car drivers as end-users of products compared to the other two projects which were more about the design of work places.

The IMMA program has been developed by FCC (Fraunhoger-Chalmers Centre for Industrial Mathematics).