Designing highly usable and ergonomic control dashboards is fundamental to support the user in managing and properly setting complex machines, like trains, airplanes, trucks and tractors. Contrarily, control dashboards are usually big, intrusive, full of controls and not really usable for different users. This paper focuses on the re-design of an ergonomic and compact dashboard for tractor control, proposing an innovative methodology in line with human-centered design and ergonomics principles. The study started by shifting the focus from how a machine works to how a task has to be performed and how the user interacts with the machine. It uses virtual simulations and human performance analysis tools to support the concept generation and the detailed design, and to test the new idea with users in the virtual lab. Indeed, within the virtual environment, different configurations of controls can be tested, checking which controls are mostly used and measuring human performance indexes (i.e., postural comfort and mental workload) for each configuration. Virtual mannequins can be used to as “digital twins” to interact with virtual items and to calculate robust comfort indicators during task execution. The study adopted the proposed methodology to an industrial use case to develop a usable and compact armrest for a new tractor platform. The new armrest is smaller than the previous one (-30% in dimensions), more usable (keeping on board only frequent controls, better positioned), and more comfortable (it satisfies 95% of the population size). This new approach could be used also for the design of new products.
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