Boeing Wichita hired their first human factors professional in the early fifties. For over thirty years, the work in the area of human factors maintained a traditional focus, concentrating on product usability. Their work was to build the customer's human specifications into the product design. This customer focus centered on building a product that would be easier to use and maintain. In the late seventies and early eighties, manufacturing found itself faced with a re-emphasized need to increase productivity to stay in business. To meet this demand, companies began implementing new technology modernization programs, causing the workplace to be in a state of rapid change. These changes called for a new approach in the way companies planned for new technology and in how they utilized their human resources.
During this time, Boeing Wichita applied a human factors approach to planning new technology implementation. Employees from the existing Crew Systems organization were directed to staff a new group and build a human factors plan for implementing new technology into the manufacturing environment. This new group departed from the traditional product orientation and took on a process orientation. Our objective was to apply research data and lessons learned from past experience to the jobs of people involved in the manufacturing work. The time was right to assist the assembly mechanic in building the plane. At that time, we did not realize that we were on the cutting edge of the application of human factors in American manufacturing. Armed with a small staff and a huge amount of enthusiasm, we began tackling the problems of implementing new technology into the workplace.
Over the next ten years (1980-1990), with the advent of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emphasis on ergonomics, and the new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the emphasis and work mix of the Human Factors and Ergonomic Development organization changed. Global competition, the struggle to remain a world class company, and emerging OSHA and ADA regulations contributed to the increased need for Human Factors' involvement in the design, evaluation and recommendation of new and improved processes for manufacturing. Not only were we concerned with building a better airplane, but building the airplane better. In addition to the human factors work on new technology, this organization is now involved in recommending improvements to existing manufacturing processes, working with the Safety organization to prevent injuries, performing job and task analyses for the return-to-work program, recommending reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities act, and working on continuous quality improvement teams and design-build teams for new product development. This paper will discuss the evolution of Human Factors' involvement in manufacturing at Boeing Wichita. Discussion will cover how the organization was started, what type of work is performed, how it is done and some recent accomplishments.