Industrial Exoskeletons: The Future of Labor

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Sarcos Robotics Guardian XO
Sarcos Robotics Guardian XO

Exoskeletons are external components that are used to enhance human motion to reduce fatigue and bodily injury while increasing work quality, production, and focus. Advancing technologies have led companies to begin researching, designing, and manufacturing numerous exoskeletal systems to be used in various forms of industrial work settings. Body weight assisting devices will allow construction workers the ability to lock into a standing or kneeling position for long periods of time while reducing exhaustion of the body. For labor-intensive jobs such as loading and stocking, using a back-support exoskeleton will ensure proper posture of the back and spine along with reducing loads. It is easy to see how useful this technology will be for both workers and employers alike.

Looking towards the future of the industrial field, we can see the need for an increase in production from companies. With an ever-expanding market of supply and demand, coupled with increasing population numbers, it is crucial for companies to find new ways to produce more efficiently. A benefit of these systems is the reduction of workplace injuries, which in turn reduces medical costs, lawsuits, and time off work. These numbers reflect billions of dollars that companies are currently spending on workplace injuries and concurrent expenses. Considering the cost of purchasing exoskeletons versus the estimated amount a company spends per year on medical expenses, prosperity is evident.

Currently, there are six main categories of exoskeleton systems being designed in the industrial field. They all offer varying degrees of aid in different areas of work, but all have the common goal of increasing worker’s engagement as well as increasing production rates. These two categories combined will yield a thriving boost in supply and demand as employees will miss less work and invest more money into the economy. Reducing the amount of stress placed on workers not only increases their elation but our country’s financial state.

Tool handling exoskeletal suits are used to lend support to reduce the weight on a worker’s arms and shoulders. Ekso Bionics is one of the leading companies in this field and has partnered with Ford Motor Company to use their EksoVest suits to help workers who deal with repetitious overhead work. The vest can be used in scenarios involving tools or no tools and uses springs to provide lift assistance to arms. Lift assistance of between 5 to 15 pounds is provided with tasks including tools up to 8 pounds. This is a cutting-edge innovation transforming the automotive industry for a positive future.

Archelis, translated to wearable chair in Japanese, is an exoskeleton that gives the user the ability to sit anywhere at any time. Featuring a sleek, lightweight design, this is the future for positions that require long amounts of standing such as surgeons. A cover is formed that allows the user to sit at any moment. It is fitted with ankle and knee joints as well to promote normal walking. This enables users to continue use without the need for removal. This exoskeleton will support pressure points of the thighs, calves, and heels while reducing fatigue.

Cyberdyne, Inc has invented a back-support device for labor-intensive workers. The Hal lumbar type for labor support is a device that assists movements based on bio-electric signals. It reduces stress to the lumbar region during lifts and carrying. It is battery-operated, waterproof, dust-proof, and features five levels of assistance for numerous tasks. It is ISO13482 certified and fits strict standards for use in industrial environments. This product is currently only available in Japan, but it shows a promising future for this technology worldwide.

Ironhand is Bioservo’s answer to weak and wearing grip in the workplace. Using motors run by pressure sensors, the unit can adjust the strength of grip needed giving endless possibilities for configuring it to individual needs. It consists of a backpack styled power unit and a user-worn glove. It can further risk assessments and collect data to identify ergonomic risk tasks. This is the world’s first muscle enhancing robotic muscle and uses Bioservo’s trademarked Soft Extra Muscle (SEM) technology.

While still in development by Sarcos Robotics, the Guardian XO Max is a full-bodied power suit. This device enhances the user’s strength to an incredible 20 to 1 ratio. In layman’s terms, a 100-pound item will feel around 5-pounds instead. Featuring an incredible 8-hour battery life and the ability to swap batteries seamlessly during field operation as well as zero latency between movement and response, this unit will create a huge impact on industries such as construction. Pre-orders for the suits are available with delivery set for early 2020.

The last category of exoskeletal systems is supernumerary robotic limbs (SRL) and is a device worn around the hip that provides two limbs that act as both hands and feet. The primary function is to either hold materials in position while the operator performs tasks or to offer support and balance during activity. This technology gives a single worker the ability to accomplish numerous tasks, previously requiring a second worker, with ease. This is currently being developed and researched by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

These are just a handful of companies and products relating to exoskeletons being developed in the industrial field. Many more are hard at work developing the technology that will fuel tomorrow’s workplace. Granting the ability to reduce physical stress and injury will increase labor and production. This, in turn, leads to a booming economy and thriving businesses.

Let us hear from you! Have you used an Exoskeleton in your workplace and if so, how has it changed your quality of life? How do you feel this technology could benefit your health, production, and company? Do you see any cons to weigh against the above-stated pros of using these systems? Write to us in the comment section below and give us your opinion!

 

Citations

  1. “EksoVest and Ford – Reducing the Strain on Workers.” Ekso Bionics, eksobionics.com/eksoworks/ford/.
  2. “22 Exoskeletons For Work and Industry Into 6 Categories.” Exoskeleton Report, 7 Jan. 2019, exoskeletonreport.com/2016/04/exoskeletons-for-industry-and-work/.
  3. “Innovations.” Honda Body Weight Support Assist | ASIMO Innovations, asimo.honda.com/innovations/default.aspx?ID=body-weight-support-assist.
  4. “Honda Walk Assist Mobility Technology.” Honda, honda.com/mobility/walking-assist-technology.
  5. “CYBERDYNE.” CYBERDYNE, cyberdyne.jp/english/products/Lumbar_LaborSupport.html.
  6. “Ironhand® .” Bioservo, bioservo.com/professional/ironhand.
  7. Haridy, Rich. “Battery-Powered, Full-Body Exoskeleton Lets Users Lift 200 Pounds.” New Atlas – New Technology & Science News, New Atlas, 3 Jan. 2019, newatlas.com/sarcos-robotics-guardian-xo-exoskeleton/57847/.
  8. “Supernumerary Robotic Limbs (SRL).” D’Arbeloff Laboratory, darbelofflab.mit.edu/robotics-research/supernumerary-robotic-limbs-srl/.

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