To optimise human-technology-interaction with cognitive ergonomics

Veronika Kretschmer is a scientific employee at Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML

The employee-friendly design of Industry 4.0 systems is becoming more and more important for the success of digitisation. As a pacemaker for the introduction of Industry 4.0 logistics is currently pushing forward those research activities in particular that can improve effectiveness and efficiency of human-technology-systems. Cognitive ergonomics is a thrilling new research field. The objective is to make recommendations for design and actions for a human-centred use and handling of "smart" technologies as Veronika Kretschmer of Fraunhofer IML describes.


Research into cognitive ergonomics was already being carried out in the eighties, but it has been broadly disregarded for many years. In the context of Industry 4.0 and the new possibilities for  human-technology interaction the focus is now shifting towards this research area. In particular, logistics research has discovered cognitive ergonomics as a problem solver for information-intensive working worlds of the future.Logistics’ commitment to cognitive ergonomics is based on the awareness that Industry 4.0 systems should be designed in an employee-friendly way to provide more satisfaction and relief for the employees and as a result achieve better performance. Generally, cognitive ergonomics considers how to design people’s "information environment" in a better way, i.e. how humans can best cooperate or interact with technical systems. In this context, the researchi is focusing on the increasing psychological burden on employees.


The problems of "informational work"

Connecting up the virtual and physical worlds facilitates new forms of cooperation between humans and systems and also integrates intelligent assistance systems in the work processes. Virtual reality, for example, is used for training and planning purposes, augmented reality supports maintenance projects. What at first glance sounds like having more fun at work, however, often leads to more complex work processes coupled with increasing information and communication requirements. Employees are having to face new or changing workloads to an even greater extent than when the automation of machines impacted on companies in the 1970s or when computers found their way into offices in the 1980s. The focus of cognitive ergonomics is on the psychological side of work whereas physical ergonomics continues to address the prevention of physical stress and strain.


It is already obvious today that the flood of information, the redundancy and multitude of irrelevant information we face is causing big problems for employees in information-intensive disciplines. People must deal with complex information-intensive tasks, fulfil them accurately and exactly. However, the more information people are faced with, the more responsibility they have to take on. So the pressure rises – especially in light of constantly tighter timeframes. This imbalance or overload then results in diminished concentration, more illness and more mistakes.


Humans remain indispensable

The central research objective for cognitive ergonomics is to achieve "stress-optimised design" as the basis for Industry 4.0 systems for humans. People will continue to be an indispensable part of Social Networked Industry that furthers the development of Industry 4.0 based on the example of social networks. Furthermore, they will be subject to constant technological changes that will have a direct and indirect impact on the way we work and on the quality of work.


Not everyone reacts in the same way to an information-intensive work environment. What is most important for this is a person’s technical background, their attitude towards technology and readiness to deal with new technologies. How do people value technological progress, which expectations do they connect with new technologies? Do they have the impression that new technology helps them or that it hinders them, that they are control it or that it controls them? These are exactly the factors that are the subject of investigations into cognitive ergonomics. With the help of these results human performance can be optimised in a way that the effectiveness and efficiency of the human-technology-system are improved.



Dr. phil., Dipl.-Psych. Veronika Kretschmer is a scientific employee at Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML. She carries out her research into cognitive ergonomics in the context of both the National Centre of Excellence for Logistics and IT at the scientific location of Dortmund and the Innovationslab Hybrid Service in Logistics research project.



Currently, cognitive ergonomics is in great demand in intralogistics and particularly in the field of commissioning. Despite the increasing automation, digitisation and mechanisation of warehousing, order picking processes will continue to be  performed manually by human order pickers. In future intralogistics working environments , heterogeneous and rapidly changing product portfolios will require a flexible and adaptive way of working that at the moment is still a unique characteristic of humans. New information and communication technologies and technical assistance systems in the field of intralogistics will mean that order pickers’ work will become more complex. In addition to already existing physical and psychological burdens, new job requirements will arise with regard to human-machine interaction such as monitoring, evaluating or controlling digital processes.

With respect to the »Cognitive Ergonomics« research project, there will be a practical focus on designing  applied technical assistance systems or human-centred user interfaces. As employees in intralogistics will not be replaced by new technologies in the near future, order pickers should be supported as effectively as possible by smart assistance systems or smart work environments.