Project Profile: Ergo Advantage Inc.

In the image, people are sitting at desks at an open concept office.

The Challenge

Bodies are meant to move, but modern life breeds couch potatoes—and desk jockeys. We hear that “sitting is the new smoking,” but many jobs require us to sit or stand in the same position for long stretches of time, and the results can be aches and pains, lower workplace morale and even long-term health complications like musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Studies show that moving the feet and legs even once every five minutes can help stimulate blood circulation, alleviate discomfort, improve posture and fatigue resistance, and lower the risk of MSDs.

Ergo Advantage Inc., based in Fergus, Ontario, normally focuses on modular ergonomic mat systems to improve comfort and safety in industrial and retail settings. They had an idea for a new kind of standing mat focused on the individual office user—one that would fit in a standard workspace and promote natural foot and lower leg movement 

Ergo Advantage approached Mohawk College’s Additive Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC) to support research and development of the new mat design.

The project is funded by the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI). The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) contributes.

The Results

Ergo Advantage had several key requirements for its mat. The design concept was to create four different “movement-zones,” with different densities and textures, to prompt users subconsciously to shuffle their feet on the mat. The main questions were which material(s) to use, how to structure the material, and in how many layers. The mat also had to be ergonomic, responsive and comfortable (soft with support); be one-piece, one-size-fits-all, durable and easy to clean; have a sleek design, in available colour options; and not be distracting or a trip hazard. 

Taking an iterative approach to design, the team produced and tested a series of prototypes with different materials and structures. 
The team used Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) to print molds for a foot-sized prototype, to get a sense of the overall feel of the mat for different users, and to test and verify the silicon casting methods. They tried out different shapes, heights, durometer (hardness) levels and patterns. 

A prototype in a honeycomb pattern with a variety of infills succeeded in prompting subconscious movement. Honeycomb structures are often found in nature (beehives, birds’ bones) and human engineering mimics them to combine minimal material and weight with maximal structural integrity. In the mat, this structure produces a slow collapse after the first impact—creating exactly the right sensation of delayed discomfort to prompt continual foot movement. Varying aspects of the honeycomb pattern—hexagon sizing, wall thickness, and staggered solid-filled patterns to amplify rigidity in some areas—radically changed the feel of the mat while providing different compression ratios.

The final prototype was cast in the full mold size (about 1.5 x 2 feet), tested, and is now ready for trial production runs. With AMIC’s help, Ergo Advantage has opened up a new market for their mats. 

This project is funded by the Niagara College-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) through Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) contributions.

Source: Mohawk College’s Additive Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC)