OPEX Corporation is a technology company specializing in developing products to improve workflow.  One of these products is a scanner that quickly renders digital scans of documents of nearly any size or material.  Their newest model, the Falcon, is clearly the result of years spent developing scanning technology.  Because OPEX places strong emphasis on the user friendliness of their products, they asked us to improve the interaction between the operator and the scanner.  Our challenge was not to redesign the scanner, but to find the points in the scanning process that could be altered to improve operator comfort while maintaining or increasing efficiency.


Our research began with a trip to a scanning bureau that worked closely with OPEX.  There we observed a number of operators scanning boxes of documents.  Many of the operators used wheeled desk chairs to transport heavy boxes to their desk, where they worked with the second chair sitting next to them, periodically reaching in to grab a stack of documents that needed to be scanned.  This meant the operator was regularly turning around in his chair and lifting his arm to reach inside a box that sat at the same height as he did.

Despite having storage bins hovering above their desks, many of the operators placed stacks of papers on top of the desk, choosing to instead fill the paper-sized bins with personal items.  It was difficult to determine which stacks still needed to be put through the scanner and which needed to be put back in the box.  The boxes were identified with a bar code sticker, so the documents needed to ultimately end up back in the box they came from.  When the operator finished scanning the entire box, he would replace the documents that had been through the scanner and return the box to storage.



The operator was often responsible for bringing the box of documents to the work station.  This box could be any size and contain any number of documents making the weight difficult to predict.  The vertical distance the box needed to travel was another factor with limited predictability.


Because there was no recommended method of transportation, the strain caused by moving the box was difficult to predict.  Some boxes did not have handles and the methods they were currently using, like desk chairs, did not have handles designed for moving heavy loads.


When the box was seated next to the operator, he had to shift from his normal operating position in order to reach into the box. An operator could be scanning for up to 8 hours a day, and repeatedly having to twist his torso a full 90 degrees to reach inside of the box could be very uncomfortable.


Similarly, the angles that the operator had to adjust his body to were unnatural and repetitive. Having the box at a 90 degree angle meant that the operator was diverting his attention away from the scanner every time he had to pull new documents from the box or put scanned documents back in. Also, if the box was sitting on a flat surface he had to tilt his wrists over one side and into the box to grab the documents.


The operators were not taking advantage of the current design’s bins in the organization of their desks. This told us that keeping scanned and to-be-scanned documents separate was something that needed to be incorporated into the redesign.



One solution to the problems associated with moving a heavy box was a push cart.  However, this situation was unusual in that the operator was interacting with the box and the method of transportation after he had moved it to his workspace. In designing a way to move the boxes from storage to the workspace we had to consider the ergonomics of pushing a cart with a box on it as well as the factors associated with repeatedly reaching into the box after the cart had been parked at the workstation.


When we began designing the cart, we thought it was necessary to make both the angle and the height of the platform adjustable.  Once we began testing we realized that with too many adjustable options our users were having difficultly finding a comfortable position.  It was determined that adjusting the height of a platform that was at a fixed angle neutralized the wrist and encouraged the same comfortable positions as the adjustable angle but halved the amount of adjustment needed.


While putting the cart platform at an angle was helpful when the operator was reaching into the box, it made loading the boxes onto the cart more difficult.  After our team tried to load heavy boxes onto an angled surface we saw that it was much more difficult.  As we were discussing the various ways to lift the platform to a specific angle once the box was on it, I noticed an umbrella and suggested we investigate how it opened and closed.  An engineer on the team suggested a spring that locked into two positions, so we looked at existing examples of spring loaded cart tops and incorporated that into our cart.


Taking a corner out of the desk space was a big decision, and we knew determining the right angle would mean the difference between operator comfort and rejection.  Research into desk organization revealed that there was a range for primary vision (30 degrees from the centerline of vision) as well as a maximum for peripheral vision (95 degrees from the centerline of vision) and a maximum comfortable reach angle (90 degrees from centerline).  Our hypothesis was that the ideal angle would be 60 degrees from the axis perpendicular to the shoulder, the limit for primary vision.

diwei-45To test, we used a piece of foam core that was cut to bend in 15 degree intervals from 30-75 degrees.  We had the users mimic the actions involved in scanning a document at each of these different angles while describing their physical and emotional responses to the change in table shape.  After a few rounds of user testing it was clear that we needed to include another angle in-between 45 and 60. Our users were saying that 45 degrees allowed them to move their elbow more comfortably, but at 60 degrees they had more visibility and felt more aware of their task.  Thus, we added a 55 degree option which ultimately was the angle we used for our final table design.




cart-assembbly copy


To limit the vertical distance the box needed to travel, we chose a scissor lift to adjust the height of the platform.  Having a cart with an adjustable platform also allowed the operator to adjust the height of the box as he was working with the scanner.  The platform that the box sat on needed to be at an angle to limit tilting of the wrist to reach the documents inside the box.  This, paired with the adjustable height of the box, would minimize the amount of arm adjustments and awkward joint positions involved in reaching inside a box.


To solve the issue of keeping scanned and to-be-scanned documents separate, we decided to include a plastic divider to be placed in the box with the documents.  The operator would then pull documents from the front of the box, put them through the scanner, and put them into the back of the box behind the divider. The platform being at an angle was beneficial to this adjustment as well, as gravity kept the documents and the divider from tipping over.


Putting the divider in the box freed up the desk space that had been occupied by already scanned documents. This allowed us to remove a corner of the desk and replace it with a parking space for the cart. Having the cart closer to the operator as well as the scanner itself would decrease the range of motion necessary to pick up the documents and reduce the amount of time that the operator was facing away from the scanner.