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What is an industrial ergonomic handle?

clock 4 minutes | 09 Oct 2019

Range of access hardware products ready to be fitted on an industrial application

Ergonomics – also called human factors engineering – is about designing products so that they’re comfortable for people to use. Or think of it this way: it’s designing a product so that it fits the people who use them, taking discomfort, the risk of injury and fatigue out of the equation.

The fewer muscle groups needed to operate your product, the more efficient it is to use. This is essentially what defines ergonomics in design. There’s just one hitch. People come in different sizes, so what’s ergonomic for one person might not be ergonomic for someone else.

How are you then supposed to find a handle with an ergonomic grip?

This is why anthropometry data is important. Anthropometrics is the study of human body measurements. When it comes to industrial handles, you’re dealing with a tricky area. It’s not like say, a pair of pliers, where a person can choose what they find the most comfortable. An industrial handle is to be used by everyone who needs access to the other side.

What size handle is right?

By using anthropometrics, you can best choose a handle design for your application. Because you’re dealing with so many users, both male and female, you’ll use the largest hand dimensions that your data gives you. For example, NASA has this anthropometric data on hands.

40-Year-Old American Male for Year 2000: values in cm (inches)

Dimension 5th percentile 50th percentile 95th percentile
Hand length 17.9 (7.0) 19.3 (7.6) 20.6 (8.1)
Hand breadth 8.2 (3.2) 8.9 (3.5) 9.6 (3.8)
Hand circumference 20.3 (8.0) 21.8 (8.6) 23.4 (9.2)

Let’s say you yourself are in the 95th percentile. That means 95% of the other values within the population fall below you and 5% are above you. You should consider each of the hand dimensions in the 95th percentile when choosing your handle.

Graphic depicting how anthropometric data can support ergonomics in design

Anthropometrics vary database to database, depending on the people who were studied. If you want the body dimensions of the Belgian population, you can find it. Chilean workers or U.S. Marine personnel? The data is out there.

Other helpful databases to consult are held by:

Man inspecting some industrial door pull handles

The best door handles: what to look for

What is the best door handle design? There is no one answer. It depends on your application, of course. If you’re looking for industrial cabinet pulls, industrial drawer handles, an industrial door pull – or any kind of handle with ergonomic features, then consider how the handle reduces possible injury risks. Is an awkward posture required to use the handle? What about repetitive exertions? Can the industrial handle catch clothes or skin? If you’re satisfied with your answers, then an element of ergonomics is at work. What you should consider are these factors:

1. Shape

The standard door knob is not considered ergonomic. It has a rounded surface, which requires the user to apply pressure for a strong grip in order to turn the handle fully. For industrial handles, consider these examples:

  • L-handle – Like the T-handle, it provides an ample grip area. The user simply pushes downward, and the mechanism is activated, alleviating the user from stress to joints. These work particularly well for industrial cabinet handles.
  • Cover handle – It’s elliptical shape won’t snag clothing or skin (see Essentra’s catalogue for examples).
  • Industrial door pull handles with rounded shoulders work particularly well for machinery and equipment. Like cover handles, these industrial pulls won’t catch clothing or skin.

2. Surface

Material can add elements of ergonomics. In and of itself, that technically does not make a handle ergonomic, but if you’re looking to make the user experience more comfortable, it can help tremendously.

We mentioned that standard door knobs are not ergonomic, but that doesn’t mean all spherical knobs lack qualities to increase comfort. The ball knob, used in applications such as electronics, hydraulics and machinery, is available in low density polyethylene (LDPE). It’s a soft finish, and comfortable to the touch.

Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) is often used to make better grip tools. It’s become the material of choice for ergonomic hand and power tools. Similar to rubber, it has a tactile feel and provides a soft-touch grip.

TPE is also used in some knobs. Examples include:

  • Lobe knobs – Female lobe hand wheel knob with five lobes has an inner moulding of polypropylene, and a TPE over moulding. Lobes are beneficial, because they enable the user to get an excellent grip.
Worker installing industrial handles in a production area

3. Non-slip

Again, we turn to knobs. Non-slip hand gripping is important for comfort. Grooves in the sides of the knob or handle can allow for a sure grip. Examples include:

  • Fluted grip knobs – Consider these if you’re looking for knobs for machinery or electronics.
  • Knurled knobs – Small patterns on the side provide a non-slip grip while the knurled rim keeps fingers from slipping. Where it’s especially helpful is in turning counterclockwise, which requires more force exertion than turning clockwise. You’ll find a range of knurled knobs in Essentra’s catalogue.

4. Safety

Non-slip can fall into this category, but what we’re talking about here is withstanding vibration or liquids. Examples include:

  • Adjustable T-handle with compression – Not only does this have an ergonomic grip, but the lock compresses gaskets against door and panel openings, providing a tight seal. This compression has an added benefit: it resists vibrations.
  • Knurled knobs – The fact that the pattern on the side provides such a good grip makes this knob ideal to use if water is a potential threat.
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