Many manufactures are implementing the use of 3D-printed tools and fixtures into the workplace environment, which allows the company to create custom-made items necessary for their day-to-day operations in record time and with minimal cost. This use of new technology has led to some great improvements in productivity and efficiency. However, in only using additive manufacturing technologies in this way, companies often inadvertently overlook the importance of serving the needs of the individual operator, and by extension, they leave an important resource untapped.
Although the application of additive manufacturing in both product development and production can be very rewarding in terms of improved labor efficiencies and increased productivity, it has the potential to be even more rewarding. 3D printing is the perfect technology for designing, developing, and producing custom tools for operators who may have ergonomic issues with the tools at their disposal, or even a disability or injury which inhibits them from doing their job to the fullest potential. Using 3D printing to create assistive items for these individuals is incredibly rewarding, and can be done with minimal cost and time.
This kind of direct input from an engineer, exercising an empathetic design approach, helps the operator perform their job task with greater comfort and productivity. Additionally, the operator then has a profound sense that engineering and management truly understand and care for the individual by addressing their specific needs. By utilizing custom-made, empathetic design in this way, the company demonstrates their commitment to offering the operator some degree of relief and support in performing their assigned task. This also demonstrates that the company is committed to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that reasonable accommodation be made in order for persons with disabilities (or temporary disabilities as a result of injury), to perform the job required of them with the same levels of success as someone without a disability or injury would be able to do.
Engineering with Empathy, utilizing 3D printing, can help to bring reasonable workplace accommodations to fruition; improving workplace performance, strengthening company culture, and caring for those employees who need it the most.