Introduction to Exoskeleton Technology
Exoskeletons are external mechanical support structures and have the potential to improve ergonomics in manual activities. Such mechanical devices exist in the form of driven or purely mechanical systems and can support people. For example when lifting and carrying heavy loads. In logistics, the use of exoskeletons is particularly conceivable in manual load handling to relieve the lumbar spine or in over-shoulder work to relieve the shoulder and neck area.
Expectations of the technology to solve the effects of demographic change are high, but there is no proof of its effectiveness yet. Nevertheless, a number of market-ready models for special applications are now available. It is difficult for companies to assess whether the use of exoskeletons is suitable for their work processes.
Therefore, the department of Machines and Facilities of Fraunhofer IML offers workshops to raise awareness in companies to the potentials and possible risks of using exoskeletons. Besides an introducting to the technology and presentating the current state of development, the workshop also includes the fitting of selected exoskeletons by the participants. Furthermore, aspects such as acceptance, wearing comfort and safety will be discussed.
If physically stressful workplaces have already been identified in the company, an assessment will be made together with the participants as to whether and which models can be used and which steps are necessary for a successful pilot phase. Prerequisite for this is an on-site visit of the workplaces during the appointment.
The Fraunhofer IML has been observing the development of the technology for several years and carries out laboratory and field studies with different exoskeletons. When advising our customers, we act neutrally and manufacturer-independently. If required, we can also develop and implement alternative concepts to improve ergonomics of manual workstations.