Medical equipment ergonomics vital in healthcare sector

Southco explains how technological advances in portable medical equipment is placing increased pressure on design engineers to meet challenging ergonomic requirements

Technological advances in the development of portable medical equipment are presenting new design challenges for manufacturers as they seek to meet more demanding ergonomic requirements to improve operator usability and enhance patient experience. Whether it's diagnostic and imaging equipment, dispensing carts, display screens or charting stations, design engineers need to focus on choosing intuitive products designed with the lowest operating efforts. Hinges and arms with integrated positioning technology deliver better usability and can provide a more ergonomic feel for those who use this equipment.

Worldwide research affirms that ergonomic medical equipment should be designed to accommodate such factors as size and maneuverability, ease and range of adjustments, weight capacity, application limitations and ease of cleaning. Furthermore, all such equipment should enable easy and intuitive use in their primary functions, offer simplicity of operation within their environment and empathise with the physical and intellectual abilities of operators.

Today's technology allows previously larger and more stationary equipment to become more portable and accessible, and manufacturers are investing more each year in improved designs. According to analysts, the industry is forecast to grow by more than 8 per cent annually, surpassing £300 billion in 2016. Specifically, the endoscopy equipment segment is expected to grow 6.4 per cent in 2012, the ultrasound segment is expected to grow 44 per cent by 2015, and the point-of-care diagnostic segment is expected to grow 9 per cent annually through 2016.

By integrating positioning technologies into equipment designs, engineers can meet the need for mobility while simplifying operation. Positioning technology improves functionality, usability and ergonomics, saving the end-user time and labour.

Positioning arms and mounts

The increase in the availability of touchscreens and imaging technology has changed the requirement for display mounting. Equipment, such as endoscopy machines, is often fixed to carts or other portable devices. Using mounts and arms in these applications can help equipment designers achieve positioning that is more ergonomic.

Employees are discouraged from working for more than four hours per day with their necks bent more than 45 degrees. This means that display screens should be positioned at optimal viewing angle, 15 degrees below the horizontal line of sight. Thus, it is critical for operators to be able to move screens and input devices into comfortable working positions with arms and mounts that support the display screen when stationery, yet are easy to move when re-positioning is required. Constant torque positioning technology offers a full range of motion and can hold a display screen in a precise position without any set screws, torque handles or other user intervention. And, it enables screens to withstand vibration, bumping and drift during transportation.

Tilt-only display mounts, such as Southco's T Series, enable effortless display positioning and infinite angle options in medical equipment only requiring tilt functionality - such as a monitor mounted on a dispensing cart. For applications requiring more adjustment, Southco offers a tilt and swivel mount that tilts vertically and horizontally, with a range of motion stops for added flexibility. For even more mobility, articulated arms offer a full range of motion and can be moved in multiple directions and angles with minimum force.

Hinging technology

Positioning technology in medical equipment is not just limited to mounts and arms. Constant torque hinges, which use engineered friction systems to provide continuous resistance against motion, can be incorporated into a variety of applications. These hinges are suitable where it is necessary to easily open and close doors, such as wall charting stations, medical cabinets and diagnostic equipment with heavy lids.

A variety of hinge options that can improve ergonomics in medical equipment applications are available. For example, Southco's counterbalanced hinges allow the weight of an object - such as a heavy tray of lid - to fold up easily. They provide lift assistance and feature improved, long-term reliability when compared with gas struts, which may fall due to loss of pressure.

Another positioning option is detent hinges. These provide positive retention at pre-determined points, allowing operatives to hold panels open providing rapid access while keeping both hands free.

Medical equipment manufacturers must be prepared for constant changes in how healthcare professionals use traditional medical equipment. The shift towards mobility and portability in equipment designs demands improved operation and an ergonomic focus.

Engineers should select components that are both functional and able to meet ergonomic goals. Through the integration of positioning systems - such as hinges, mounts and control arms - operators of medical equipment will experience ease of use, as well as improved balance, control and reliability.

For further information about positioning arms, mounts and hinges for ergonomic designs, go to

Southco Manufacturing Ltd

Touch Point, Wainwright Road

+44 (0)1905 346722

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