Are you ready for the new breed of workwear?

04 September 2018

Control Engineering Europe reports on the launch of an exoskeleton solution to help reduce fatigue in factory workers.

Data relating to the adoption of wearable devices from a 2017 report by Zebra Technologies Corporation found that 50% of manufacturers plan to adopt wearable technologies by 2022 and 55% of current wearable users expect to expand their level of usage in the next five years. The Zebra report also predicted that current manual processes will dramatically decline. It states, for example, that the use of pen and paper to track vital manufacturing steps will see a drop in use from 62% in 2017 to just 20% by 2022 due to the inefficiency and susceptibility to errors of this traditional method.

According to data from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) the global market for wearable technology – which includes all types of exoskeletons and all the sectors in which they can be used – has grown by over 60% since 2015. Annual growth of this market is expected to be around 25% from 2018 to 2020.

When it comes to exoskeletons, Comau is predicting that over one-third of applications will be found within the industry sector. The company launched an interesting offering into the exoskeleton market at Automatica in June. Its MATE Fit for Workers exoskeleton was developed by the company in collaboration with IUVO – a spin-off company of the BioRobotics Institute of Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa – and Össur, an Iceland prosthetic solutions company. Throughout the design process the team collaborated closely with factory workers engaged in manual activities to ensure that the resulting device would be acceptable to the expected wearer of the device.

The result was a solution that is said to be very different to other exoskeletons. It uses no batteries, motors or mechatronics. It is made from lightweight and breathable materials and has been created to adhere to the body of the operator like a second 'skin'. Importantly, the inclusion of a patented kinematic mechanism guarantees that the device follows the movement of the operator through all the degrees of freedom of the shoulder without the need for any bulky equipment.

MATE is expected to find applications in a range of industrial applications, including assembly, packaging, storage, handling of materials and, in general all those tasks which require the flexion-extension of the shoulder to be repeated constantly over time, with bending angles of around 90°. It can provide consistent movement assistance during repetitive as well as daily tasks, helping to reduce wearers shoulder muscle activity by up to 50%.

A passive structure
The exoskeleton uses a spring-based passive structure to provide a lightweight, breathable postural support.

Commenting on the launch, Tobias Daniel, vice president robotics and automation products global sales & marketing, said: “MATE has been designed in close collaboration with factory workers, so it able to respond directly to their needs. With our exoskeleton, they will be able to do the same tasks but with less fatigue.”

MATE is expected to become an important element of Comau’s HUMANufacturing Technology strategy, a concept which puts people at the center of the production process in an environment made safer and more efficient through the implementation of collaborative robots and digital technologies. This strategy was introduced last year at the Hannover Messe, where Comau provided a demonstration of Industry 4.0 at work with an automated cell in which every unit interacts with the system with operators being at the center of every phase of activity.

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