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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU researchers trying to improve human performance measurement

In the world of manufacturing, productivity, quality and safety are frequently affected by employee performance. The question for managers becomes how to empower human performance to enhance these factors.

One technique would be to collect "real-time" measurements of employee performance.

Two faculty members and students from New Mexico State University are embarking on a research project that could speed the introduction of such measurements into the workplace.

The project is being led by Julieta Valles-Rosales, an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering, and Jeanine Cook, an assistant professor in the Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The two received a grant from the National Science Foundation's ADVANCE Program at NMSU to support the project.

The first step in the research project will be to study employees at a local factory who perform repetitive tasks. The researchers will identify performance metrics such as posture, steadiness, response speed, memory and range of motion.

Another part of the project will be to develop a sensor that can measure the metrics that the researchers identify. This sensor might be mounted on workers' bodies or could be located in their work area. Cook will be responsible for identifying or developing this sensor.

The researchers then will use this sensor to collect data at the selected site for a period of time. After that, they will analyze their data and develop a decision-making model to be used in real time.

Cook said researchers are looking at applying scheduling techniques from the area of parallel computing to re-schedule workers from one task to another when their performance declines.

Valles-Rosales said she believes factory managers will support use of such models as long as they don't lose money. She believes monitoring and measurement of human performance could be particularly valuable in "cellular" manufacturing environments, where 8-10 people produce a product from start to finish.

"It is well known that the performance of people working in a manufacturing facility can degrade during a regular working day," Valles-Rosales said.

Traditionally, Valles-Rosales said, managers have made staffing decisions based on "off-line" observed data such as absenteeism, turnover and accident rates. She said real-time decision making will enable employers to place workers according to their skills and to take immediate actions to maintain human performance. She said employees could benefit from such a system because employers typically offer higher pay to employees performing more stressful activities.

Valles-Rosales said she hopes data gathered from this study will enable the researchers to compete for funding to conduct further studies on human performance measurement.