RESNA 27th International Annual Confence
A Study of Advanced Manufacturing Technology as a Workplace Accommodation in a Manufacturing Environment
The application of computer technology has opened many doors for people with disabilities in the workplace. In the manufacturing environment, a trend toward automation is occurring, which may also improve the opportunities for people with disabilities to be employed. A literature review was conducted to identify the current state of automated technology in manufacturing environments. This paper will identify the barriers to and opportunities for using advanced manufacturing technology equipment to improve access for people with disabilities in the manufacturing environment found in this review of the literature
Manufacturing, Advanced Manufacturing Technology, AMT, Computer Numeric Control, CNC
As of April 2003, approximately 15 million people were employed in the U.S. manufacturing sector with over 10 million being production workers. The current unemployment rate for the manufacturing industry is 6.7%, which equates to over 1 million potential jobs  . At the same time, approximately 33 million working age adults (16- 64) are living with a disability. Of this 33 million, 21.3 million are living with a condition which impacts their ability to sustain employment  . Many of these workers need assistive technology (AT) devices to participate in work activities.
The application of computer technology has opened many doors for people with disabilities in the workplace. This is particularly true in office environments where the use of electronic information technology is pervasive. The increased use of computers has not only provided a growing number of opportunities for employment, but has also encouraged the development of assistive devices for people with disabilities. In the manufacturing environment, a trend toward automation is occurring, which may also improve the opportunities for people with disabilities to be employed  . This paper will explore the barriers to and opportunities for using advanced manufacturing technology (AMT) equipment to improve access for people with disabilities in the manufacturing environment.
A literature review was conducted to identify (1) the application of automated equipment in manufacturing, (2) the benefit of this equipment to the employee, and (3) the safety regulations related to a manufacturing environment. The methods used to identify potential studies for review included investigation of journals specific to assistive technology and people with disabilities, as well as journals related to injury prevention, ergonomics, and industrial manufacturing processes. Articles included in the review were found using journal database systems such as Science Direct and Compendex in addition to relevant government websites.
There is a trend in manufacturing toward adopting AMT equipment  . Sauer et al.  used the term Automated Machining Technology to include “a range of computer-based technologies like CNC-machines (computer numeric control), machining centers, and flexible integrated manufacturing systems.” CNC equipment is used in a number of different industries to provide precision machining or assembly with increased product quality and decreased production costs  . These machine systems use computer-generated parameters to guide the motion of tools used in the machining process. The CNC program includes parameters that reference the location of the tool to be used, reference the location of the material to be machined, and identify the desired length, width, and depth of cut to be made.
The manufacturing sector has attempted to increase productivity and safety through creating ergonomic workplaces. This same principle of creating work environments which are simple and useable can be applied to enhance the working options for people with disabilities  . Automation of production processes related to machining, assembly, and inspection may help to simplify the physical requirements of a job task  . The processes and equipment may be further simplified through the use of “poka yoke” strategies. Poka yoke is a philosophy centered in error proofing the manufacturing process to increase productivity. Often in this process of error proofing, decreased physical and cognitive demands are achieved through simplification of tasks leading to increased production rates and decreased employee error [8,9] . Similar outcomes have been seen for people with developmental disabilities  .
The potential for risk in a manufacturing environment is reflected in the mission statement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which states, “[t]he mission of [OSHA] is to save lives , prevent injuries and protect the health of America's workers.” (emphasis added)  . In a manufacturing environment, a person's ability to operate the necessary switches and command controls for AMT does not ensure that the same person is able to safely load the necessary tooling, securely position the raw materials, or safely move about the manufacturing facility. OSHA has authority to enforce safety regulations on manufacturers. Unfortunately, many of the existing regulations do not reflect the view that a person with a permanent disability may be able to accomplish tasks with accommodations or with the use of assistive technology. For example, the term “disability” is often used in OSHA regulations to describe a temporary state resulting from accident or injury. This view of a disability as an all-or-nothing proposition implies that either a person has a disability that can be measured in days or it is permanent to the point of exclusion from future activity. There is however, current research being conducted through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). As part of their research agenda, NIOSH established a Special Populations at Risk team to promote new methods and approaches for the occupational health of people with disabilities  .
The use of AMT clearly has the potential to increase productivity in the manufacturing environment as evidenced by its increased use. This technology also has the potential to significantly reduce the physical demands on manufacturing employees. Corresponding improvements to the processing and quality control strategies employed by manufacturers lead to a more simplified environment. The combination of these provides a unique opportunity for people with disabilities to be employed in a manufacturing environment if issues of safety and accessibility can be addressed adequately. Further research and development must be conducted related to these manufacturing trends so that new job opportunities may be identified. These new job opportunities will lead to the development of universally designed machine control systems and an increased labor pool for employers in the manufacturing environment. Efforts must also be made to revise safety regulations and guidelines to ensure greater accessibility and safety for people with disabilities in the manufacturing environment.
Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access
Georgia Institute of Technology
490 10 th Street, N.W.
Atlanta, GA 30332-0156
Voice: (404) 894-9156
FAX: (404) 894-9320
This study was funded by the NIDRR Workplace Accommodations RERC, Grant # H133E020720.