Dr. Chaffin is the R.G. Snyder Distinguished University Professor (Emeritus) in Industrial and Operations Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan. Dr. Chaffin received his BS in Industrial Engineering from GMI (now Kettering University) in 1962, his MS in IE from the University of Toledo in 1964, and his PhD in Industrial Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1967. He served as Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Kansas Medical Center during 1967-1968, returning to the University of Michigan as Assistant Professor of Industrial Engineering, and rising to Professor of Industrial Engineering in 1973, and Professor of Occupational Health in the School of Public Health in 1982.
Dr. Chaffin has served as Chair of the Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering from 1977 to 1981, and Director of the Center for Ergonomics from 1981 to 1998. He has Chaired or been a Co-chair of 40 PhD Dissertation Committees. His research has resulted in six books, over 140 peer reviewed journal articles, and over 300 Proceedings, book chapters and reports. He and his graduate students and staff have developed a set of widely used software programs to assist engineers who are involved in designing workplaces and vehicles to accommodate various groups of people, and to assure that people do not suffer overexertion injuries during the performance of manual tasks of all kinds. In 1998 he founded and directed the Human Motion Simulation Laboratory in the Center for Ergonomics until his retirement in 2007. His work has resulted in his election to Fellow status in six different international, professional and scientific organizations, including the Society for Automotive Engineering, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Ergonomics Society (Great Britain), American Society of Biomechanics, American Industrial Hygiene Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has received many national and international awards for his teaching, research and service, including being elected to membership in the prestigious US National Academy of Engineering in 1994. In 2008 he received the National Engineering Award from the American Association of Engineering Societies, for his lifetime achievements and leadership in the field of ergonomics.
Like several other colleagues, I have found the University of Michigan a home well worth returning to several times. The first time was a year after completing my PhD in Industrial Engineering in 1967. The opportunity to return presented itself while holding the position of Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine at the University of Kansas. The work I was doing allowed me to further develop my biomechanical modeling of the musculoskeletal system; work which I had started as part of my dissertation research here at Michigan. Around that time it was becoming clear that Congress was going to pass an Occupational Safety and Health Act, and this would provide funding for new educational programs to protect worker health. The UM IOE department asked me to return and lead a faculty team to put together a proposal for educating engineers about occupational safety and ergonomics (then referred to as human factors engineering). Because I had worked at several different companies before coming to Michigan, I personally was convinced that the tools and equipment that workers were being provided could be designed in a fashion to better accommodate their physiological capabilities, but this would only happen if engineers and designers knew more about ergonomics. The subsequent proposal we wrote was funded by the newly established National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in 1971. It provided stipend and tuition support for eight graduate students annually to study in the field of occupational safety engineering. We later were able to combine this grant with similar training grants in the School of Public Health for Industrial Hygienists and Occupational Medicine Physicians, and in the School of Nursing, which allowed us to become a regional Educational Resource Center for Occupational Health and Safety Engineering, eventually involving over 25 faculty, staff and about 70 graduate students annually.
By 1979 it was clear to me that studying and modeling the phenomenon of how people interact with tools, machines and vehicles was quickly becoming very important as companies and organized labor struggled to improve productivity and quality while not harming workers. I was serving as the Chair of the Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering at that time under then Dean Jim Duderstadt. Jim was very supportive of my efforts, and with others in the College we defined a new organizational entity in the College, the Center for Ergonomics. After review and discussion by several faculty groups, the Center was approved by the Regents in 1980. When I retired from Department Chair in 1981, I was asked to become the Center Director, a job that I stayed with for the next 17 years. During this period I did manage to take two short sabbaticals to write books on ergonomics. I might note that one thing these sabbatical leaves provided me was an even stronger believe that ergonomics could best be pursued here at Michigan, where-in their existed a rich tradition of interdisciplinary research, and a profound understanding from outstanding engineering, life and behavioral science faculty members and students that ergonomics was an important emerging field of study. It was particularly gratifying to have outstanding graduate students want to work with me and my colleagues in this area. I have been personally blessed by being asked to chair or co-chair 40 such student PhD dissertation committees. Most of these alumni have gone on to establish distinguished careers at other Universities and within various companies.
From an instructional standpoint, my colleagues and I saw a major demand for knowledge about ergonomics at all levels. Fortunately additional faculty were hired during the 1980’s to satisfy both the instructional load within our degree programs, and to provide one and two week ergonomics short courses for practicing professionals a few times each year. In fact we found that in these short courses the enrollments would max-out with 200 to 250 students in each course we offered. It was a very exciting period for us all. Eventually our success was noticed, and other universities and organizations began offering ergonomics courses and degree programs. Needless to say, our enrollments during the 90’s became much more manageable.
One other thing that I am particularly proud of is the way our human simulation software has been developed and used to analyze manual work and injury risk through-out the world. Here again the University showed its ability to be flexible, allowing several graduate students and myself to turn over to the University our rights to any personal royalties from the software we developed, and in return the University provided the resources to both support further development of the software through student fellowships (over 40 students have received some support over the years), as well as aid in licensing the software to various organizations and individuals (over 3000 licenses have been granted by the University over the past 20 years).
As an extension of our human modeling work in the 80’s, it became obvious to me during the 90’s that with Computer Aided Design CAD systems becoming the norm for design of products and manufacturing systems, our human models would need to become much more robust, so that engineers and designers could import them into their CAD systems to simulate all types of human endeavors. This led me to form the Human Motion Simulation Laboratory in 1998. With the aid of several outstanding graduate students and faculty colleagues we have been able to study the movement behaviors of about 300 different people. From these studies we have assembled a very rich database of over 120,000 human motions, along with several elegant kinematics and biomechanical models. We currently share our data with 12 other universities and national research laboratories. The models we have produced now allow designers and engineers to visualize avatars moving about in their virtual CAD environments, thus providing the means for engineers to truly practice “human-centered” engineering. I’m confident that the research and software now being developed in the Human Motion Simulation Laboratory will have an immense impact on the future design of many different products and operating systems, and will provide a much more friendly and accommodating world for all people.
Since retiring in 2007 I've been dividing my time between my UM office in the IOE Building and on several other home and boating projects. At the office I have been supported by a great staff that has allowed me to continue to work with graduate students, organize meetings of other emeritus faculty to plan various projects to assist the College of Engineering, maintain contact with various alumni groups, organize an NAE/NSF Workshop and Symposium on manufacturing, serve as the chair of the NAE Section on Industrial, Manufacturing and Operations Engineering, and serve on the NRC Committee on Human System Integration. While not in the office, I co-chair the Architecture and Building Maintenance Committee of our Condo Association, play in the percussion section of a 70 member Concert Band, and maintain and upgrade the various mechanical and electronic systems on our 38 year old motor yacht "Off Campus". My wife Barbara and I also are spending as much time as we can with our three children, Paul, LeAnne and Jeff, who have provides us with seven wonderful grandchildren, who remind us how quickly time goes by and that we must not stop dreaming and living those dreams to the fullest.