Quantifying worker upper extremity and trunk exposures in helicopter manufacturing


Keywords: Physical demands; injury prevention; ergonomics; industrial design

Timeline: 2021-2022

Researchers: Alan Cudlip (Brock University), Michael Holmes (Brock University), Shawn Beaudett (Brock University)

Funder: CRE-MSD

Project type: Seed grant

Partner: Airbus Helecopters Inc.

Sector/workplace type: Industrial manufacturing


Previous work by Airbus has identified helicopter manufacturing tasks of interest. This research project will define worker exposures during these industrial manufacturing tasks while providing ergonomists and work task designers with an understanding of worker exposures to help prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSD).

Objectives/research question

This work will examine upper extremity and trunk muscular activation and posture during typical helicopter manufacturing tasks. Identifying differences in posture and muscle activity across tasks and comparing these to literature threshold values from the literature will inform the future design of these tasks and help prevent MSD. 


This study will use surface electromyography and motion capture to determine muscle activation and joint motion during representative helicopter assembly tasks. Surface electromyography will be placed over 16 muscles of the trunk and right arm, as well as motion capture of the trunk, right upper arm and right forearm. After providing informed consent and equipment calibration participants will watch a video displaying Airbus manufacturing to provide information on the tasks and postures adopted by employees. Participants will complete each of 3 tasks (fuselage, tailfin, cockpit interior layup) each for 20 minutes in a random order. Post-processing will focus on development of amplitude probability distribution functions of normalized muscle activation for each muscle as well as torso and shoulder postures to allow comparison across tasks.

Research team roles

Dr. Cudlip is a postdoctoral fellow and will be responsible for data collection, post-collection processing and development of outcome reports for the industry partner as well as academic publication. Drs. Holmes and Beaudette will be responsible for project oversight and assistance in development of industry and academic publication.

Collaboration and partnerships

Airbus will supply: information on work task scenarios of interest; manufacturing equipment and supplies to represent these tasks in a laboratory setting; and video footage of tasks to be used as representations for laboratory participants.

Knowledge transfer strategies

The findings from this work will be presented at academic conferences relevant to ergonomists and work task designers, including the Ontario Biomechanics Conference, the Association of Canadian Ergonomists conference, and the CRE-MSD Research Day. In addition, we plan to publish the findings in a high impact open access journal to allow ergonomists and work task designers to have easy access to the research. We will also be presenting this work to Airbus through in-person presentations and a written report at the conclusion of this work. A knowledge mobilization specialist will help prepare materials with research informed recommendations.

Impacts and implications

This work will have direct implications on workplace design for helicopter manufacturing. These findings will have a direct impact on Airbus manufacturing guidelines and will promote ergonomic design alterations to minimize worker exposure. This work is tailored to address selected tasks that need improvement and will provide opportunities for continued collaboration to improve worker health and safety.