Exoskeleton Technology: Making Workers Safer and More Productive
- Terry R. Butler (Lean Steps Consulting Inc.)
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- September 2016
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 32 - 36
- 2016. American Society of Safety Engineers
- 1 in the last 30 days
- 45 since 2007
- Show more detail
- This article discusses the use of exoskeleton technology to ergonomically reduce shoulder overexertion in employees who extend and raise their arms.
- It presents some potential benefits and safety challenges of using such technology to simultaneously protect workers and increase productivity.
- The benefits presented are quantified from real-life field testing conducted at a large manufacturing facility and should help the reader understand the level of testing and research necessary to properly evaluate an exoskeleton technology before introducing it into a workplace.
Exoskeleton technology comes in many forms, some of which can be powered by batteries and some with the use of stored energy within mechanical components. This article focuses on the latter, as its application is more universal and affordable for a broader range of industries. The exoskeleton technology discussed in this article is a lightweight, strictly mechanical device that will ergonomically reduce shoulder overexertion in persons who extend and raise their arms.
This exoskeleton consists of a frame, armrests and a system of mechanical components that transfer the weight of the arms from the shoulders to the core body. The body-worn exoskeleton moves with the user while not intruding into the user’s workspace and while giving the user full range of motion, akin to wearing a backpack around the upper body. The exoskeleton uses mechanical arm-support technology that is inactive until the arms raise. It progressively activates as the arms lift and gradually releases as the arms return to a resting state.
The device can be configured to a specified range of motion over which the support mechanism is active, as well as a specified level of support for the arm. For example, assembly workers often use tools that weigh as much as 15 lb. These workers may require the device to support 70% of arm weight. Alternatively, welders and painters who typically work with lighter-weight equipment, such as a weld gun or paint gun, may require the device to support 50% of arm weight.
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