The science concerned with the fit between people and their work, specifically soldiers in the case of Armscor’s Ergotech, means seeking solutions to optimise human performance and at the same time reduce risks and improve productivity.
Ergotech has succeeded in this to the extent it is seen as a leading international authority in fields of ergonomics and anthropometrics as well as fluid balance in potentially debilitating environments.
Using the disciplines of, among others, biomechanics and physiology, Dr Heinrich Nolte, manager of the Centurion-based specialist consultancy, explains that ethnic and biological diversity make it impossible to use data from foreign populations to design for the South African users.
Ergotech has established a database of anthropometric measurements relevant to South Africa and is the custodian of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) anthropometric database. Ergotech also has extensive experience in the interpretation and application of South African anthropometric data for both clothing and equipment design purposes, he said.
RSA Mil Standard 127 is a range of military standards that provide ergonomic inputs to design for the anthropometric and biomechanics 3D characteristics of the South African soldier and the environment in which these soldiers operate.
“This research finds applications in the Army, Navy and Air Force where we scientifically select individuals for physically and mentally demanding tasks. Looking at it another way, when the standard cockpit is ergonomically designed for a particular range of physical attributes, pilots in that range must be selected to achieve optimal human and system performance.
“We redesigned the female service dress court shoe for the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS), the fourth arm of service of the SANDF.
“We started from scratch, three dimensionally scanning about a thousand feet to design a new last used to develop a complete size range that will accommodate the South African female soldier.”
Another Ergotech programme focuses on protection and this is developing body armour, designing for maximum ballistic protection while trying to make it as light and comfortable as possible, Nolte said.
“One of our challenges is to apply this effectively for both male and female. Within six months we will have new technology demonstrators available for the South African soldier,” he said, adding there is commercial potential.
“The SA Police Service and Correctional Services are far larger users of body armour than the SANDF.”
Recent research done on the physiological front includes studies on the management of fluid and electrolyte balances in soldiers in hot environmental conditions. Linked to this is management of heat illness in the SANDF. Given South Africa’s extreme temperatures this has seen Ergotech emerge as a recognised world authority in management of fluid balance and heat illness in military environments, Nolte said.
“This opens the way for commercialising this expertise for other contexts such as mining.
“Ergotech has the capability of remotely monitoring human physiology in real time for medical risk management and improvement of human performance. Application of some of this fatigue management capability could have commercial value in environments such as mining, long distance driving and control rooms, to name a few.
“Traditionally, Ergotech has had a 90/10% split between military and commercial clients. The potential is there to provide solutions across a wide range of enterprises,” Nolte said.