Author Archives: Pete Segar

Safe Product Design: Products that contain AC power may be dangerous!

  • What percentage of user injuries can be caused by my product?
  • How many fires are acceptable in a hospital or school?
  • Is it acceptable to allow user injuries if they don’t read the manual?

These are questions faced by companies designing electrical products for public use. The answer leads to vastly different actions by their engineering teams. They have to decide whether the goal is 0.01% or 0. And the actions one takes to achieve 0 are far more extensive than it is if a low rate of injury is allowable.

Designing a truly safe product requires redundant safety features, special abuse tests, both component and full system level certifications to all government standards. Products that contain AC power or have the potential to cause physical injury or death. When used in public places such as hospitals and schools, they have the potential to be exposed to non-technical and non-experienced users. A higher level of safety therefore applies, and OSHA has extensive requirements defined for almost any such product. 

However, you would also be surprised at how frequently companies get away with unsafe design practices and simply don’t bother to meet the regulatory standards defined by OSHA.  In our business, we have several competitors offering computer carts with battery power systems that are not certified to the OSHA-required standard of UL-60601-1. You should be aware that cost and schedule conscious suppliers may feel pressure to deliver products without the legally required certifications since it may cost tens of thousands of dollars and add months to the development schedule.

Skipping certification means skipping crucial fire safety, electrical safety, EMI and mechanical safety testing. We have tested many competitor products and have seen inadequate ground paths (which could cause shocks), lack of flame retarded plastics around high power components (fire hazard), small gauge wire with inadequate strain relief (fire and shock hazard), improper thermal systems (fire hazard), pinch points, and many other serious problems in products publicly available for sales into hospitals.  All these safety issues are possible even if the product is constructed of UL-approved components.

To be a good consumer and ensure the highest safety standards of the products you adopt, please be aware of the following misleading marketing statements. The only thing you know for sure if you see these statements, is that the product is NOT certified to the proper standard.

  • Tested to UL Standards
  • Designed to UL Standards
  • Constructed of UL Components

These statements may indicate that the system has been tested and failed, the system was not completely tested, or the system was not tested at all! These are not satisfactory answers and should be explored further to determine if full UL certification truly exists.

There is a simple way to tell if a product meets certification requirements–it will have a UL or other regulatory sticker on the outside of the product.

Certification Label

“UL Listed” or “UL Certified” verbiage in sales and marketing literature means a UL sticker and certificate have been earned (like the one shown here). These products have met the OSHA requirements. You can feel confident you and all that come in contact with the system will have the safest possible experience.

If you are responsible for purchasing electrical products for public use, you need to put pressure on manufacturers of non-certified products. These products are not safe for you to purchase and expose to your employees. 

Safe products are your right, and your responsibility, whether you are a designer, manufacturer, or purchaser.

Pete Segar
President, Ergotron, Inc.

Hockey and Motorcycles- A Marriage Made in Heaven

OK, I realize this topic is not really about Ergonomics.  But it is a solution to a problem that I have had for years.   In Minnesota, when we get a nice day, us motorcycle riders like to ride!  But in my case,  twice weekly ice hockey games have prevented me from riding every Tues and Thurs.  Today, I have a solution: 

Pete with VRod loaded with hockey equip

Continue reading

Create a mobile presentation display in 3 easy steps

Pete Segar, Chief Technology Officer @ Ergotron

At Ergotron, we use a low cost television mounted on a large display cart for small group presentations.

We wheel the TV between offices or to conference rooms throughout the building as needed.

It is in use about 50% of the time. No cables to connect to the computer or TV—the presenter simply uses a wireless keyboard and mouse to run the presentation. Plug in the TV and USB adapters, and it is ready to go.

 

Setting this configuration is easy: 1) wheel the cart into the room; 2) plug in the Wireless adapters for KB/Mouse and VGA Kits into computer; 3) toggle the CRT/LCD button on computer. Now you’re live!

Of course this could work for a permanent installation.  And the same principles can be adapted to a projector.  But here’s why a flat panel display beats a projector: 

  • Mobility: Easily shared across the building
  • Image Quality: Higher resolution and offers a better image in a bright room
  • Setup Time: Fast, and no messing with cables
  • Screen Requirements: No need for a clear white wall or screen
  • Flexibility of Positioning: Mounted on an Ergotron cart, the TV becomes height and tilt adjustable, easy to reposition
  • Maintenance: Never change a bulb
  • Heat: No loud fan blowing hot air into a small room

Ideal setup:

The following setup allows me to sit at the table with nothing but a keyboard and mouse.

  • 32-40” Flat Panel TV w/ VGA input
    • No need for high resolution unless you have special requirements
    • I recommend an inexpensive TV for general presentation use
  • Mobile Cart
    • Ergotron Neo-Flex® Mobile MediaCenter cart (available in three configurations for monitor size)
    • Cart has height and tilt adjustment, and can mount any TV under 120 lbs
  • Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
    • Lots of brands to to choose from
  • Wireless USB to VGA Kit
    • This device has a USB adapter connecting to your computer, and a VGA device attaching to the TV.  The VGA device plugs into the wall.  Your computer screen transmits wireless to the TV.
    • I use one from Iogear that was less than US$150
  • Computer: Can be anything with USB.  Mine is sit/stand workstation with a notebook and a flat panel monitor (for more information see my other post, The “Road Warrior” Home Solution: Integrating Work Laptop and Home CPU Computers)

Let me know if you want to learn more.  I am thrilled with this setup and I have far fewer setup issues with this than with an in-room projector.

How to Create Products that Delight Customers

Pete Segar, SVP Product Innovation & Chief Technical Officer @ Ergotron

In planning future products, many companies put a lot of effort into standard techniques like Voice of the Customer.  These methods are good tools designed to prioritize customers wants and needs, and provide inputs on new products.

But I don’t think they are the best way to develop products that delight you, the customer.  Why?  Because the basic tenet of these tools is that they rely on a customers existing context, that is, your reply within the framework of what exists today.  You may respond saying faster, cheaper, different color, etc., which are all useful for creating a better version of a current product.  But it is rare that these methods lead to a disruptive new concept that will ultimately delight you.

My definition of a truly innovative product is one that gives you more than what you want in a way you could not have thought to ask for.

To develop a product like that, we have to focus on the workflow and “live” your experience.  This can be done through talking with you, understanding how you do work your daily process and what your fundamental challenges are.

To use our own products, install them in front of you and internalize what you like and dislike.  When we do these things over and over, and focus initially not on the product, but on what problems need to be solved, then true innovation can be created.

We make products that solve ergonomic and productivity issues for computer users.  Many of us at Ergotron are laptop users with port replicators, and a flat panel monitor at work.  We take our laptops home every night for work and teleconferences.  I call this the typical “road warrior.”  Three years ago, all these laptops sat closed on our desks in the port replicator, while we used single monitors.  The laptop screen wasted all day long.  We knew the productivity that can be gained by using dual monitors, yet we looked at these wasted screens and saw an opportunity.

We set out to solve the problem of allowing you to view your open, docked notebook and utilize it as a second screen.  And to do so in an ergonomic and convenient way.  As users, we knew the problem because we lived it every day.  Out of that problem came a unique product that nobody every asked for – the Neo-Flex™ Combo Lift Stand.

I have that product on my desk at home, providing the productivity of a dual monitor solution and the ergonomic advantages of a height-adjustable, swiveling stand in one compact unit.   This product is changing the way people work, and helps provide 10% or more productivity improvement for everyone using it.

The best way to be innovative is the “live the problem” that needs to be solved and to take a workflow view.  The best way to do this is to install and use your own products.

The “Road Warrior” Home Solution: Integrating Work Laptop and Home CPU Computers

Pete Segar, SVP Product Innovation & Chief Technical Officer @ Ergotron

There are lots of us “road warriors” who shuttle a laptop computer between work and home, yet also have a home CPU computer with flat panel monitor.  Great productivity gains can be had by hooking up the system so that the computer monitor can serve as a second display when using the laptop (see my separate blog entry describing my work computer setup which uses the laptop as a second display).

Here is a fantastic solution that is easily achievable:

  • Share a keyboard, mouse and monitor between the home CPU and work laptop
  • Switch back and forth from laptop to CPU instantly in one keystroke
  • View dual monitors when using the laptop computer
  • Position the flat panel display and laptop in convenient ergonomic positions
  • Reposition the laptop and flat panel monitor easily- adjust height or swivel

A very simple solution allows both the home CPU and the work laptop to share the monitor, keyboard, mouse, and even USB devices.  The solution uses  a “KVM Switch,” which can be purchased from any computer equipment retailer for less than $30 and be installed with ease. 

The KVM switch looks like a Y-cable with connections for the keyboard, mouse, monitor and possibly USB devices on one end, and two sets of corresponding connectors that go to each computer.  Pressing CTRL_SCROLL LOCK twice switches the display and peripherals from the laptop to the CPU and back.   This allows use of dual displays for the laptop computer.  I have not yet figured out if there is a way to use the laptop as a second display when using the CPU computer.

I purchased an inexpensive port replicator for the laptop on EBay, and mounted it on an Ergotron Neo-Flex Combo Stand.  The display is also mounted on the same stand.  This allows me to easily position both displays in an ergonomic and convenient position.  

 Figure 2) Press Ctrl-Scroll Lock twice, and the flat panel screen now shows my home CPU computer.  The keyboard and mouse also now operate my home computer.  The work laptop computer is still live, but now is in single monitor mode.

Figure 1) Home computer setup showing dual monitor system – my home computer display serves as the second monitor when using my work laptop.

Figure 1) Home computer setup showing dual monitor system- my home computer display serves as the second monitor when using my work laptop

 Figure 2) Press Ctrl-Scroll Lock twice, and the flat panel screen now shows my home CPU computer.  The keyboard and mouse also now operate my home computer.  The work laptop computer is still live, but now is in single monitor mode.

Figure 3) Rear view of the setup.  All the laptop wiring is attached to a port replicator, so my laptop can simply be snapped in and out of the dock.  The whole system is height adjustable and swivels side to side.

With a few inexpensive devices, it is easy to create a really innovative, flexible, space-saving, ergonomic workstation that integrates your home computing equipment with work computing equipment.  Here is my “bill of materials:”

  • KVM Switch ($20)
  • Neo-Flex Combo Stand  ($179)
  • Port Replicator  ($99 used)

I really encourage those of you who use work laptops and home computers to consider this solution.  The ergonomic and productivity benefits are well worth the few hundred dollars of investment.  Everything can be acquired from most major IT resellers.

Happy computing!!

World’s Greatest Sit to Stand Workstation

Pete Segar, SVP Product Innovation & Chief Technical Officer, Ergotron

OK- I may be overstating it just a little- but I really do think that my computer workstation is one of the best in the world.   My computer workstation combines sit/stand ergonomics with dual monitor productivity all for <$1000.  It is an amazingly simple and convenient workstation that is perfect for the laptop road warrior.  

My workstation uses an Ergotron Neo-Flex Mobile Workspace cart fitted with a Combo Dual Monitor bow.  This allows me to position my 20″ Dell monitor next to my open laptop screen for a very nice dual monitor workstation.   When I come in the morning, I dock my notebook to the Dell docking station that is permanently mounted to the laptop tray of the cart, and open up the screen.  Then it is perfectly positioned for dual monitor productivity.   I find this provides a huge improvement in my effectiveness and prevents errors.  In my job, I am afrequent spreadsheet user, and the ability to have an email open in 1 screen, a spreadsheet in the other, and the ability to enter data into a spreadsheet without opening and closing windows is much faster and I am much less likely to make an error.

Sitting at my dual monitor workstation

Standing at my dual monitor workstation

Inserting my notebook into the docking station.  You can see the laptop mounting platform.

The cart has a 20″ vertical lift so I can easily sit or stand at any time.  I find that it really helps prevent back and neck problems to frequently reposition myself.   Plus, research has shown that you burn calories much faster standing vs sitting. There are many sit/stand worsktations that are commercially available, but they tend to be very expensive ($1,500-4,000) and difficult to use.  Motorized lifts need power, and take roughly 20 seconds to raise from sitting to standing-that can be very irritating.  Cranks are slow and very inconvenient.  The “Constant Force” lift technology is a smooth counterbalance that makes the lift very easy, simply pull up, it moves in place immediately, then it stays where you leave it.  Very intuitive and convenient.   Because it is easy to move- you WILL move it!

Finally, because this cart has nice smooth casters, it is really easy to reposition in the room.  I frequently pull my workstation out away from my desk, and over to the table in my room so I can share my displays during meetings.  We show presentation, meeting notes, etc, and then push it back to the desk when it is not needed.  This is really great.

 My workstation rolled over to my table for a meeting

The standard Neo-Flex Mobile Workspace cart works with either a notebook computer or else a flat panel monitor with a CPU.  I have a prototype configuration that uses the combination monitor/notebook mount from our new Neo-Flex Combo Stand to mount the monitor and notebook side by side.  I am very interested in seeing how much support there is for this type of product- so please provide feedback to my blog if you would like to see this product become available. 

I am issuing a “Dare to Dual” to you: combine a flat panel display with your docked notebook screen to achieve a cost-effective, efficient ergonomic workstation that will change your life!