By Doug Hallet
Members of Canada’s armed forces will be fitting better into their uniforms and their equipment thanks to work being done by a local company.
Human Systems Inc.’s downtown headquarters was a buzz of activity this week as the company trained 10 co-op students, who’ll be going across the country measuring armed forces personnel in sophisticated ways that make it easier to tailor military gear to those using it.
That includes everything from personal protective equipment to escape hatches, says company president and principal consultant Bob Webb. “Anything that a human body has to fit into or that has to fit onto a human body. The list is endless.”
It’s been a long time since the Department of National Defence had a detailed inventory done of the body types of Canadian armed forces personnel, Webb said in an interview Tuesday. The last time, it was done using tools such as calipers, rulers and measuring tapes.
A lot has changed since then. With more women, immigrants and older people now serving in the three branches of the armed forces, typical body measurements have changed. And the software and laser-based scanner technology being used by Human Systems Inc. is so sophisticated that it can provide “3-D images of body, head, hand and the like,” Webb said.
The company started by Webb in 1982, which has grown to a firm with some 30 employees, is doing this work under a contract with the Department of National Defence. The project, due to end next March, involves visiting military bases to measure a representative cross-section of several hundred armed forces members. The 10 co-op students will be travelling with four company employees, often staying in barracks on the bases as a way of economizing, Webb said.
DND has paid for the sophisticated equipment they’re using, but Human Systems Inc. has “the expertise to use it,” he said.
The company, located for the past 15 years at 111 Farquhar St., focuses on high-risk sectors where human performance is critical. It says it specializes in “the human side of technology for product or system development, procurement and upgrading.”
Its consultants often go out into the field and have worked on ice breakers, in airports and mines, on manufacturing lines, in prisons and at many other challenging locations.
While DND is its biggest client, Webb said the work it’s doing could be very useful elsewhere. “Although much of the work we do is not exactly wasted on DND, it would be very valuable to other sectors,” such as police and other emergency services personnel working for municipalities, he said.
These emergency services “don’t have the buying power of an army, so they can’t do this sort of thing. But they could use this sort of database,” he said, suggesting they might want to try persuading DND to allow this to happen.
“It’s another example not of government waste, but of failure of government to make the best use of resources, because it doesn’t share,” Webb said.
“I probably won’t be very popular for saying that,” he added.