Category Archives: Technology

[video] New WorKFit workstations designed for Apple users

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Watch a day in the work life of an Apple® user to see a new perspective on healthier computing. The new WorkFit-A and WorkFit-P Sit-Stand Workstations – for Apple, are designed for the unique needs of Mac computer and Laptop users. Standing more never looked so good.

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.

Tablets, tablets, tablets…the main story at FETC in FL

Bob Hill, North America & EMEA Channel Marketing Manager @ Ergotron

From what I heard at FETC in Florida, show attendance was up over last year. Ergotron education products were placed in the CDWG, Dell, GovConnection and SHI International partner booths, but the one product that was garnering the most attention? As you might guess, Ergotron’s Tablet Management Cart (TMC). 

It is evident that tablets are just now hitting a critical mass and acceptance by IT directors within schools. These teams are now seriously considering large rollouts, or have just purchased fleets of tablets. In many cases, it is a brand new venture for them and there is some education required to learn how to logistically manage them. 

Over and over again I heard, “We just bought 2,500 iPads…” Or, “We are looking at rolling out tablets to all of our students…” 

These conversations were great and very invigorating, often encompassing the larger tablet ecosystem:

At this point, schools already seem to know whether they are going the route of school-owned devices or bring your own device (BYOD) or a hybrid of both. BYOD makes for a nice buzzword, but is not the clear winner yet. 

In our research we knew how the Tablet Management Cart fit with schools that own and manage their own USB-charging devices, but I also learned that our 16-tablet stand-alone modules have a really nice fit in BYOD environments.

The example I heard several times is that the module can be used as a charging station in a library or media lab setting in which a student could securely hand their personal USB-charged device to a librarian behind a counter who would then “coat check” it for the student.

Here are the Tablet Management Cart features most attendees were excited about, FYI:

  • USB tablet/device charging cart
  • Small and agile (multiple times: “Oh, it’s so cute.”)
  • Charging technology (contrasted against timer-based)
  • Mass syncing (only pertained to iPad audiences using iTunes)

We will be blogging more about tablet adoption in schools. Having a clean understanding of mobile device management software can help accelerate adoption/acceptance of mobile devices whether school-owned or BYOD. Is your school heading toward tablets?  We’d love to hear more about your experience.

Goldilocks and the Three Chairs or What Size Bear are You?

Carrie Schmitz, Ergonomics Advocate and Engineering Publications Manager @ Ergotron

measuring-stick-3-bears-002If ergonomists were looking for a mascot, my vote would go to Goldilocks−yes, I mean the blonde chick with a poor sense of boundaries. I’ve been working in the field of ergonomics for more than 10 years, and lately, I’ve begun to feel a certain kinship with the story-book character from my childhood days.

Let me explain: a few months ago I was helping a colleague assess the ergonomics of her work station; she had recently moved to a new department, and was suffering from neck stiffness and pain. After a taking a few measurements, I was able to verify that her desk and chair were set too high for her stature. Once the work surface was lowered, I invited her to try out a variety of office chairs, and a few minutes later I heard her exclaim, “This one’s just right!” that’s when it hit me: Goldilocks is all about ergonomics.

You know how the story goes: our heroine wanders into the house of the three bears while they’re taking a walk in the forest and proceeds to break several rules of etiquette along with poor little baby bear’s favorite chair.

But note, in the midst of this mad behavior, there was also method: just like a professional ergonomist, Goldilocks worked with a set of Standards!

Using herself as a subject, Goldilocks determined the suitability of the objects she encountered in the three bears’ home in much the same way a human factors specialist (another term for ergonomist), tests products: that is, empirically, through observation, experience and experimentation.

Moving from room to room, she established the safe temperature for eating porridge, gauged her chair size as it corresponds to either small, medium or large ursus horribilis, and put her stamp of approval on what she judged to be the most comfortable mattress for a mid-morning snooze.

In the real world ergonomists and human factors professionals work with hundreds of different human measurements compiled into tables of Anthropometric data that help shape our understanding of human physical variation and ultimately form the basis for decisions that affect every area of human experience and endeavor.

manikin-scaleTake for example Ergotron. We manufacture mounting solutions for flat computer equipment, so we need to know how high a screen should be placed in relation to the keyboard, to ensure the safety, comfort and productivity of the computer user. A measurement which depends on the distance between the user’s eye and elbow.

But how does one define the term “user”?

By referring to an Anthropometric table, where data has been organized by gender, size and age, our designers know exactly what portion of the population to target. In some cases, a product will be designed to meet a range of sizes from the 5th percentile adult female to the 95th percentile adult male. If the product is meant to be used by school kids, the minimum and maximum heights are tailored accordingly.

Designing products that are universally acceptable is a daunting challenge for manufacturers, and ergonomists pay special attention to factors that might cause shifts in the Anthropometric data. The growing number of obese individuals in western society, has caused ergonomists to reassess the design of office chairs, and question the application of the Body Mass Index, a mathematical formula used by health professionals that takes into account both a person’s height and weight.

One of the earliest applications of anthropometry in Europe made it possible for law enforcement officers to identify criminals by body type or finger prints. NASA and the United States military in general, are major players in the field of ergonomics and human factors.

bear-scaleTheir research has resulted in dozens of inventions that have become part of our daily life such as cordless power tools, protective sports gear, “space age” fabrics that regulate body temperature and more recently, a kitchen appliance that functions both as a refrigerator and an oven−something that might have come in handy at the three bears’ house!

As for Goldilocks, I admire her relentless curiosity and the presence of mind she demonstrated in strange surroundings. If asked what she learned from the experience, I imagine she might say, “I’m a size Mama Bear−not too large and not too small. What size bear are you?”

That’s “THE END” of this story. More to come on what ergonomics means in the world of work.

The following links provide more information about some of the terms mentioned in this article. Take a look:

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society on Standards

http://www.hfes.org/web/Standards/standards.html

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) on How Space Exploration Impacts your Daily Life

http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/nasacity/index2.htm

CDC (Centers for Disease Control) on Growth Charts for Infants and Children

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/about/major/nhanes/growthcharts/background.htm

WHO (The World Health Organization) on Body Mass Index

http://apps.who.int/bmi/index.jsp?introPage=intro_3.html

 

Digital Immigrant as 21st Century Classroom Teacher

 

Dave Sanders, Director, Roadmap Innovation – Education & Healthcare @ Ergotron

 

Last month, I had the humbling experience of walking a mile in the shoes of today’s teacher…sort of (I’ll explain the qualifier in a bit).  You see, I was responsible for a session at our annual sales meeting during which I was to train the sales team on our product offering and message for K-12 and Higher Education customers. 

 

And with overzealous confidence, I declared to my peers, “If I’m going to train the team on how our products can serve as the platform for the 21st Century Classroom, I’m going to do it Smart Classroom style”.  Easy enough, I thought. 

 

Wrong!  I had forgotten that I am a Digital Immigrant.

 

I quickly came to appreciate how daunting it can be for a Digital Immigrant Educator to step out of the old school and into a 21st Century Classroom.  

 

Teaching in a Smart Classroom requires all of the usual preparatory effort – what content to be delivered, how to engage and motivate students, etc.  It also introduces a very time-consuming stressor:  how to put a bunch of new technology to productive use without losing the lesson in the process, or worse yet looking just plain foolish? 

 

After all, one of my daughters reminded me a couple of days ago how wide the tech-divide is between Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives (Marc Prensky offers up more insight on this divide at http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/default.asp).

 

I had just sent her a text message containing “u” for you and “fb” for Facebook.  I thought I was both digitally cool and efficient.  Wrong again!  She said, “Only parents shorten words like that.”  I guess kids don’t need to, given their native ability to rifle off one-handed text messages on a cell phone keypad while playing a video game with their free hand.

 

So back to my “class.” The 90-minute agenda included a PowerPoint-supported training presentation, a small group breakout segment to discuss homework enabled by Google documents, some Excel spreadsheet data review, a guest lecture by one of my colleagues on education technology, an awards session facilitated by a document camera (to display the various awards to the whole class), and some mp3 audio content thrown in for spice. 

 

This was all delivered 21st Century Classroom style to about 60 “students” using a convertible tablet pc and the document camera mounted on a powered mobile teaching platform, with wireless KVM technology to throw keyboard, video and mouse action to a projector and screen at the front of the room.  Content was also thrown to two large-format LCD displays on mobile carts at mid- and back-room to ensure view-ability and facilitate collaboration during the breakout segment.

 

Needless to say, I spent a great deal of time preparing for this session, as did an especially tech-savvy colleague who helped make all the technology components talk to each other.  This led me to think of the significant time and energy that teachers must invest in education technology training as they move into a Smart Classroom setting. 

 

In the end, our smart classroom efforts paid off.  Everything worked properly and the session was productive.  This brings me back to the qualifier I made at the top of this post.  I was “teaching” a group of sales professionals – a tough audience in its own right – but undoubtedly not as challenging as connecting with a room full of Digital Natives!

 

As I travel the US this year meeting with K-12 and Higher Education professionals, and our technology integration partners who serve them, you can bet that I will be drawing upon insights gained from this walk in a teacher’s world to help them navigate the technology jungle. 

 

If I don’t find you first, look me up!  

 

What’s the Higher Purpose?

Suchi Sairam, Vice President, Roadmap Innovation @ Ergotron

 

So, the 2009 CES is now over.  We have all been inundated with the lights and sounds of Las Vegas.  We have all “ooooh”-ed and “ahhhhh”-ed at the new products and gadgets and technology advanced that companies are offering in 2009.  I come out of every CES with mixed feelings – fascinated by what the human mind is able to create with technology, but perplexed at times by why we do it.  Is there a higher purpose to all of this STUFF?

 

Sir Howard Stringer, Sony’s President and CEO, offered the “CES Seven” as a part of his keynote address – in summary, they are key obligations for creating great user experience.  Paraphrasing (and hopeful that I have captured the essence of his points), they are 1.) embrace the fusion of industries so products work across them seamlessly, 2.) be multi-functional, 3.) be service-based, 4.) support open technologies/architecture to support customer choice, 5.) create “value chains”, 6.) advance the “shared experience” (e.g. social networking), and 7.) be GREEN.  Pretty straightforward, nothing revolutionary or innovative, so to speak… and yet, that speaks volumes too, that a large conglomerate like Sony has found a simple way to articulate their higher purpose in the overall scheme of doing business.

 

His address made me think about this in a personal context – how do I communicate my company’s higher purpose, helping the world around us experience wellness, productivity and efficiency in their computer and display use?  Did we bring that to CES with passion, and did the people we met with leave with a clear understanding of how it benefits them?

 

I’m able to boil my professional higher purpose down to this: Improving the WAY people work.  Improving the way people FEEL when they work.  Improving how people feel about their PLACE of work.  And continually making it more AFFORDABLE and with minimal environmental impact.  It’s personally inspiring and daunting at the same time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  How about you? What’s your company’s higher purpose in the grand scheme of things? Do you agree there is one and if yes, what’s yours?

Why Dell Continues to Use Social Media

Jeremiah Owyang interviews Bob Pearson (Twitter at bobpdell) Vice President, Communities & Conversations at Dell. Isn’t it fascinating that Jeremiah solicited his questions for his interview from twitter followers.

A few major points from Bob Pearson:

  • Dell is increasing its social media efforts in 2009
  • These efforts are profitable and low cost
  • One effort resulted in over a million dollars in sales
  • But the main focus is to engage customers in conversation

Another thing I found interesting was Bob’s answer to the question, what is the URL to your homepage?

Go ahead and watch it for yourself. You can learn first hand from Dell how they’ve used these tools to increase revenues and reduce costs. Well worth the couple of minutes:

Why Dell Continues to Use Social Media

Steve Olson – Technical Manager, Ergotron, Inc. Blogging about Technology, Social Media, Lifestreaming, Productivity, Lifehacks and anything else that’s interesting.

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.

Cloud Computing in the Enterprise?

Steve Olson

The prospect of cloud computing replacing in-house email and office software is here. The Official Google Blog posted metrics taken from 1 million business users in the cloud. Their measurements show Gmail with better availability than major competitors for a much lower cost.

I speak with the Sr. Vice President of IS almost daily about how we can reduce costs. We have high costs in the area of desktop applications and email. Cloud computing is one idea we discuss to reduce those costs.

But we still have important questions we need to answer.

I’m interested in hearing from businesses that are currently using cloud computing for office and/or email applications.

  • Any issues with user acceptance?
  • How about training?
  • Any hit to productivity?
  • Any problems with file compatibility between you and your partners and customers?
  • How did you overcome concerns about security and privacy?
  • Any unintended consequences?

You can leave your comments here, contact me via email at solson@ergotron.com, or contact me on most social media sites as solson. If you prefer, skype me at solson1976.

Steve Olson – Technical Manager, Ergotron, Inc. Blogging about Technology, Social Media, Lifestreaming, Productivity, Lifehacks and anything else that’s interesting.

Good computer ergonomics – it’s not just for grownups!

  

Suchi Sairam, VP, Roadmap Innovation @ Ergotron

 

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last several years about “digital natives” vs. “digital immigrants.” I just recently came across another great way of describing this from David Truss, “I come from the Batman era, adding items to my utility belt while students today are the Borg from Star Trek, assimilating technology into their lives.”

 

I spend time volunteering in schools, to give something back AND to observe how the next generation is going to approach and solve problems. Now I get the opportunity to see REAL “digital natives” in action – how differently they view the world, even compared to 5 years ago.

  

That’s when I realize that much of our educational system is not designed to teach the students of today, and that the needs of today’s students evolve so much faster than in the past.

 

I applaud educators and administrators for trying to keep up, it’s a huge undertaking.  These kids multi-task – all the time. They really don’t read physical books, they read online.  The good old days of the cool mechanical pencil are long-gone.  And they spend SO much time on computers, from such a young age.  Friends of mine are looking to get their 3 ½ year old daughter her own Mac.  Three and a half?  Wow.

 

It makes me wonder if parents and instructors are recognizing some of the implications of kids spending so much time on computers from younger and younger ages.  Back problems, neck aches, and eye strain are well known problems with adults who spend a lot of time in front of computers at work and at home, doing repetitive tasks. Why not kids too?

 

In fact, research conducted by Cornell University found “40% of the elementary school children they studied used computer workstations that put them at postural risk.”

 

Not only that, they are using these computer stations from such a young age, through important periods of physical growth that could be heavily influenced by physical constraints of extended computer use. It was good to see Dr. Crom’s recent blog entry on ergonomics in computing for children, there is a concern to create awareness and address this problem.  The American Chiropractic Association is also doing its part, publishing tips to reduce injuries related to computer use.

 

Ergotron wants to learn and be involved in this dialogue. We want to help find ways to help solve this problem of “now” and the future, so this next generation of great problem solvers isn’t slowed down due to physical ailments caused by computer use.