Ergonomic Chair Engineering Exercise not a Cardboard Lesson

By Angela Marshall – 05/19/2016

Winning chair in progress (2)
Chair building in progress. This chair was ultimately deemed one of the best ergonomically. Image provided by Gretchen Macht

Hands-on learning can really bring home a lesson, especially for engineers. This was especially true of an experience students had this semester in ISE 220, where Assistant Professor Gretchen Macht of the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Systems Engineering gave students a lesson in design: building ergonomic chairs — out of cardboard.

Over the course of 40 minutes, groups of six students were tasked with building ergonomic chairs, complete with adjustable parts, all out of cardboard. While this is the second time Macht brought the exercise to ISE 220, this time, she enlisted graduate students Patrick Motel and Brendan Boyle from the Physical Therapy program to review the outcome and give students feedback on just how ergonomic their chairs were. “Industrial and Systems Engineering is a really interdisciplinary study and I think that bringing it together and really showing the students just how interconnected it is is pretty cool to see,” Macht said in an interview.

Macht knows the value of having fun and getting students, particularly engineers, involved with the lesson in a more direct way. “What better way than to try to make a chair out of cardboard and still have moving arms, lower lumbar support, and everything, to get them to think about design and their world and the things they use every day,” she said.

Some chairs were both ergonomic and non-ergonomic. While they had features that were beneficial, other things, like uneven legs, lack of arms, or overall chair height counted against them. The top team was a group that went an extra step to create a cushion for the seat of their chair.

Some chairs, like this one, were both ergonomic and not ergonomic. The back of the chair was cushioned and supportive, but it is too tall, the seat pan too short, and no arm rests were created. Image provided by Gretchen Macht

The chair itself wasn’t the only thing being evaluated for ergonomics either. Macht added an extra level by having students learn about how the process of building a their chairs could be ergonomic or not ergonomic over a long term. Macht asked her students, “Is this a healthy environment for people who would be doing this on a regular basis?”

Macht intends to continue with this exercise and another hands-on project she uses to teach manufacturing processes going forward.

“I think next year I may have them work on them outside of the class and see what kind of products come out of it with more time and materials. It was a good exercise. The majority of students are sophomores and it’s great to give them the opportunity to dive into things that got them interested in engineering in the first place,” she says.







Image provided by Gretchen Macht