Renowned corporations, such as Florida Power & Light, also commission the Depart-ment of Industrial Engineering to solve workplace dilemmas. Recent studies by Asfour and his research team have prompted the refitting of step heights throughout FPL’s vehicle fleet. Using a three-dimensional computer model, students concluded that a proposed back brace would impair worker mobility and could contribute to injuries. M. Lewis Temares, dean of the College of Engineering, says that such partnerships enable the University to share its intellectual capital with industry.

“Upon graduation, our students hit the ground running with knowledge gained from these relationships, making them more valuable to the community.” Temares adds that IE faculty “practice what they teach and teach what they practice with real-world applications.”

In that spirit, Asfour enrolled in FPL’s Construction Familiarization program, an employee training course on how to operate FPL’s maintenance bucket trucks. “I had to experience what they do so I could make recommendations,” Asfour says.

In the Biomechanics Lab, Asfour and his graduate students have studied how lifting a given item, such as a 35-pound insulator, affects the spine. “Dr. Asfour’s team has developed an accurate injury-prediction model,” says FPL’s Ron Dearing, manager of safety for power systems. “They can predict the injury rate for the upcoming quarter and the upcoming year. If we can identify what types of injuries to expect and how many we are going to have, we can put programs in place that will mitigate those hazards and eliminate them before they happen.”

here are many examples of how the IE department has improved the lives of people who perform daily tasks, but what about race car drivers, track athletes, amputees—or track athletes who happen to be amputees? The Biomechanics Lab, commonly called the “ergonomics lab,” has undergone a major refurbishment, adding state-of-the-art equipment, such as an environmental chamber in which researchers are studying the protective quality of NASCAR uniforms and evaluating the body’s physiological performance at 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 percent humidity. The “instrumented treadmill” measures vertical ground reaction force and a person’s center of pressure when walking or running. And embedded in the laboratory floor are four Kistler force plates, which capture ground reaction forces from any conceivable working or recreational motion—walking in high heels while carrying reams of office paper, throwing a football, sliding into third base, running with a prosthetic leg, or walking with an artificial hip. Motion performed on these gait-analyzing plates, or elsewhere in the laboratory, is captured in three dimensions by eight Vicon Mcams, cameras that receive images reflected from stroboscopic lights against body markers at 250 frames per second. With 50 reflective body markers (a facial study might require 128 markers), that’s a million images every ten seconds!

Khaled Zakaria Abdelrahman is assistant director of the University of Miami Industrial Assessment Center, funded entirely by the U.S. Department of Energy. He appreciates the entertainment potential of the technology in the Biomechanics Lab, also used by creators of Sony PlayStation games and animated movies, but says, “I prefer to spend my time in research. It is an everyday adventure that needs patience, hard work, and great motivation.”

This year, several UM athletes, including Hurricanes quarterback Brock Berlin, participated in a laboratory study comparing the throwing motion of quarterbacks to that of baseball catchers. The researchers observed that on a scientific level, the movements are strikingly similar. Once published, the study will help coaches fine-tune their training regimens. The result: fewer injuries, better performance, and longer careers.

Using Biomechanics Lab technology that painlessly monitors energy consumption and activity of specific muscles, graduate student Shruti Sudam is studying postural sway analysis in patients with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. She hopes to develop a noninvasive computer model to help physicians diagnose Parkinson’s disease and gauge its intensity. Another graduate student, Carlos Montero, who is a high school science teacher and professional golfer, is studying the biomechanics of “the perfect golf swing” and golf-related wrist injuries. Montero observes that the massive data flow from motion studies was once overwhelming, but no more: “What used to take three graduate students about three months to do by hand takes about 30 seconds now.”

Robert S. Gailey, B.S.Ed. ’82, M.S.Ed. ’86, a physical therapy professor who commutes to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to treat injured soldiers returning from overseas, has studied amputee and Paralympic athlete Danny Andrews in the Biomechanics Lab. “At the University of Miami, we’re really recognized for being the groundbreakers for amputees in athletics.”

There are many areas where University of Miami IE graduates are successful. “They aren’t limited to a manufacturing or design office,” Asfour says. “It’s a field that can be applied to banks, hospitals, consulting firms, and shipping companies like FedEx or UPS. Any organization that has a need to streamline employees or operations has found that an industrial engineer is the right person for the job.”

 

Leonard Nash is a freelance writer in Hollywood, Florida.

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