Exoskeleton: The intelligent solution for minimizing workloads in logistics?
The human body is exposed to constant stress, which, depending on the duration and intensity, is the cause of signs of wear. In logistics in particular, there are many industries in which physical labor is the standard, despite all the aids available. Joint pain is not only a problem for the person affected, but naturally minimizes efficiency in operation. With the help of an exoskeleton, it should be possible to make work easier in precisely those areas where constant carrying, lifting and bending can lead to long-term damage.
Definition of exoskeleton: The external supporting skeleton for physically working people.
The term "exoskeleton" as such is derived from the ancient Greek, exo meaning "outside" and skeletós "dried body". It is therefore not without reason that exoskeletons are always referred to as exoskeletons. Even though there are natural forms of an exoskeleton in nature, for example the shells in snails or mussels, the focus is clearly on artificial everyday aids.
One example: So-called. Orthoses, i.e. splints for the purpose of stabilizing or relieving certain parts of the body, are an important tool for therapy and regeneration in medicine. Further developed orthoses with special focal points then correspond most closely to an exoskeleton.
When it comes to industrially used exoskeletons, experts usually refer to them as ergoskeletons. They have a drive system and are intended for use where heavy physical work is the norm. More about this in the next paragraph.
The exoskeleton as a support for warehouse employees: use in logistics
Regardless of whether it's manufacturing or goods management, certain jobs can only be automated to a small extent. This is mainly related to quality aspects and questions of practicability, for example in the case of relatively low volumes or a diverse product portfolio. Here, workload and the ability to concentrate are needed, and at the same time, a lot of small-scale work makes people relatively tired - the regeneration time thus influences the efficiency of the entire department.
In the warehouse itself, the following aspects can be better controlled with the help of an exoskeleton:
- Support for monotonous or stressful postures
- More even load distribution when lifting, moving and handling heavy objects
- Reduction of safety risks through mix of function and protection (e.g. through certain surfaces)
- Reduction of vibrations that, if sustained, promote the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
In short, an exoskeleton increases workplace safety, reduces wear and tear on many individual work steps, and at the same time increases efficiency in the subsegment in question.
Forms and variants of an exoskeleton
There are different versions that are suitable for use in logistics. These include, for example, pneumatic exohands, which are practically similar to a glove, but which support power transmission and thus provide assistance with fine motor tasks. Handling in the small parts warehouse can thus also be supported during longer operating times.
Assembly line areas or packing workstations also represent a possible area of application, because here the operator adopts a forward-bending posture, over a longer period of time - with consequences for the lumbar vertebrae. But order pickers also have to remove heavy loads from floor positions, which puts a lot of strain on their backs.
To be noted: A basic distinction can be made between active and passive exoskeletons. The former variant is powered by battery, direct power supply or compressed air, whereas passive systems better cushion and evenly distribute the weight pickup.
Excursus: Exoskeleton in industry - ergoskeletons or robotic suits
Constant heavy lifting, moving and the like reduces the performance of every employee in the long run. And since qualified employees are the most important resource in the company, this also explains the efforts to use appropriate exoskeletons specifically for use in industry and logistics. They are at the heart of trials and prototypes used primarily in the automotive industry. For example, an exoskeleton is worn on the back of the legs to support them and be used as needed (based on the degree of stiffening).
The highlight: Where new production areas are being created anyway, exoskeletons are already part of the planning. The workforce is aging, so the importance of an ergonomic work environment is increasing. The task of an exoskeleton is therefore both work facilitation and prevention, especially with a focus on the musculoskeletal area. Basically, everything that is applied to the body from the outside and supports it at certain points is considered an exoskeleton.