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Safety and Health at Work Due to Exoskeletons Young Technology: Power Packs for the Back

Exoskeletons are external support or assistance systems worn on the body. They are available as so-called active and passive models. Both are designed to relieve people in jobs with physically demanding movement sequences.

Exoskeletons are designed to help prevent musculoskeletal disorders. This is why multiple companies have already bought these “outer skeletons” – they can be purchased or leased. Others are currently testing them as assistive technology.

By using them, employers hope to reduce sick leave and absenteeism while achieving higher productivity and relieving exhaustion over the duration of the shift. These “power backpacks” are put on like a backpack, closed in front of the body and can be adapted to various body lengths and girths. They can help to improve work and lower susceptibility to injuries after a well-planned and in part supplier-supported introductory phase.

Passive exoskeletons operate mechanically and can be used for dynamic and static jobs in inclined postures to reduce the load. Depending on their design, they are suitable for executing jobs above shoulder and head height as well as for load handling. Suppliers include Ottobock, Auxivo and Hunic.

To help its warehouse staff when performing physically demanding jobs with lifting and turning movements, logistics company DB Schenker has put several models (Paexo Back and Paexo Soft Back by Ottobock, Auxivo, Hunic, German Bionic Cray X) to the test at various sites in Germany, Poland, Switzerland and Sweden. The jobs include sea freight (container unloading), air freight, land transport as well as contract logistics (picking and packaging of parts, parcel handling).

The exoskeleton Paexo Back operates biomechanically. The energy storage system absorbs force while bending and releases it again when lifting. This leads to up to 25 kilograms less load on the lower back. Major enterprises like VW, Airbus, Daimler, SNCF and Toyota in the U.S. and small and medium-sized companies such as pre-fabricated house manufacturer FingerHaus already work with Paexo.

The start-up company German Bionic specializes in “Smart Exoskeletons”. It is software controlled and takes over up to 60 percent of muscle activity, the major part when straightening the body. During this movement the smart power suit supplies energy thereby providing active support. The load is re-directed from the back to hips and legs. This saves the back and requires less oxygen, and work is perceived as being less tiring overall.

The smart robotic exoskeleton by German Bionic can be seamlessly integrated into any IOT environment and any smart factory. It can collect and retrieve data, and it can be remotely maintained and constantly learns thanks to Artificial Intelligence. This means it can be adapted to individual processes and to its wearers by means of movement and weight data. Updates can be installed by mobile phone overnight. Cray X can even tell wearers that the load they are lifting is too heavy or that they should take a break.

Despite its higher weight of 7 kilograms, the active Cray X exoskeleton has reduced the muscle power required by up to 50 percent. The Paexo models by Ottobock in trial run 2 also provided convincing results. Proving especially lightweight at about 1 kilo are the textile exoskeletons by Auxivo and Hunic.

At A+A, International Trade Fair with Congress for Safety, Security and Health at Work, (October 26 – 29, 2021 in Düsseldorf, Germany), exoskeletons will be featured in Hall 10. In the Robotics Park, exoskeleton manufacturers will be presented together with the Fraunhofer IPA. At the adjacent Selfexperience Space, visitors can experience and try out these innovations. In addition, as part of the Robotics Park, the Fraunhofer IPA and the Stuttgart University IFF will present a live study with the EXOWORKATHLON.

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