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ndustrial and systems engineering student-professor team creates ergonomically superior keyboard

By Bennett Leckrone, Marissa McDaid, and Colleen Carow | Mar 21, 2019
Computer

ndustrial and systems engineering student-professor team creates ergonomically superior keyboard

By Bennett Leckrone, Marissa McDaid, and Colleen Carow | Mar 21, 2019

A new 3D-printed keyboard design developed at the Russ College of Engineering and Technology could make typing easier and more comfortable.

It all began when industrial and systems engineering (ISE) master’s student Alec Peery, BSISE ’16, a competitive gamer, was applying his engineering skills and 3D printing knowledge to make his Nintendo GameCube controller more ergonomic.

Professor of ISE Dusan Sormaz encouraged Peery think more broadly about the topic – and before long, the duo devised a way to improve the comfort of computer keyboards.

Their research paper, 3D Printed Composite Keyboard Switches, published in Procedia Manufacturing, shows how a 3D-printed composite plastic and rubber switch is ergonomically superior to traditional injection molded plastic switches currently used in keyboards.

Peery presented the paper with Sormaz at the June 2018 International Conference in Flexible Automation and Intelligent Manufacturing (FAIM) which was hosted by the Russ College.

“We thought, what if we print this strange, hybrid material keyboard switch, and just see how it responded,” Peery said. “It was originally from a standpoint of making the experience better for people to work with less pain – for people to do things they want to do longer without pain,” Peery said.

According to the duo, around two in 10,000 U.S. workers were affected by repetitive strain injury from micro tasks like using a keyboard in 2015. They propose using 3D printing to manufacture switches from a rubber composite that would cushion the switches and absorb the force, in order to reduce the impact forces on users’ fingers. The new keyboard switches would thereby reduce the chance for strain, and lessen potential time spent away from work.

Sormaz said that Peery’s work shows potential employers his problem-solving capabilities.

“Engineers who know about new technologies are going to find jobs easier,” Sormaz said. “The industry is looking for new technologies.”

Peery, who pursued a Russ Vision grant at the suggestion of Sormaz, to continue his work, said his undergraduate classes at the Russ College gave him the foundation to work with 3D printers and create new designs. He specifically cited his work in Sormaz’s computer integrated manufacturing, or CIM, class.

“It’s having the base skills, combining that with something you're passionate about, and having someone push you to do it,” Peery said.

Future testing of the switches will incorporate changes to increase the accuracy of data received by the keyboard switch sensors. While there is still testing to be done, Peery said he was hopeful the project would help keyboard users.

“Ideally what it would accomplish is just to say ‘here is a keyboard that can make everyone’s life a little bit easier,’” he said.