How to validate Exoskeletons on-site?


There is increasing number of industrial and logistics companies interested in testing or purchasing shoulder-supporting exoskeleton or back supporting exoskeleton. In case you are you one of them, this article and additional link on the bottom of the page is exactly for you.



Exoskeleton is an tool helping to reduce physical workload by offering support mainly for elevated forearms or for the back muscles in bending position. There are already more than 80 different exoskeleton vendors in the market offering especially passive exoskeletons for industrial companies, for rehabilitation and for military segment. The market is booming.


Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) cost people around the world nearly 140 million years lost to ill-health, disability or early death, accordingly to the recent study[1]. Overexertion continues to be a leading cause of pain, physical disability, missed work, lost productivity, turnover and medical expenses. In USA the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that back pain is the most prevalent work-related health problem[2]. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that employers pay nearly $1 billion for direct workers’ compensation[3]. Accordingly, to the latest statistics from Europe, around 60% of all workers with a work-related health problem identify MSDs as their most serious issue. MSD related work accidents are among the most common accidents, too[4]. Problem is huge, and exoskeletons can be one of the tools to decreasing these numbers.


Together with wider offering of exoskeletons, research of the benefits of exoskeletons start to be available. However, most of the studies have been done in the laboratory without on-site requirements of the work and work-load – or they are focusing on analyzing subjective feedback together with motion sensors or similar external load indicators. Measuring muscular load requires monitoring muscle activation (electromyography, EMG). Traditional EMG devices have restriction like long preparation (shaving, calibrating, placing the sensors), lose sensors when sweating or wearing work clothes on top, laborious data analysis etc. Myontec smart clothing technology is an innovation to take EMG measurement out of the lab to everyone’s tool.


Myontec ErgoAnalysis has been used in several industries to validate and analyze the benefits of Exoskeletons combining muscular level biofeedback (sEMG) together with cardio-vascular feedback (heart rate), motions and video. All data is synchronized while recording giving comprehensive picture of the load.




Based on the measurements done in manufacturing, food industry, logistics and construction, we have noticed shoulder-supporting exoskeletons reducing load particularly in chest-level and in overhead positions with bended elbows. Electricians, construction workers and painters are the typical occupations having such frequent postural discomfort. However, shoulder-supporting exoskeletons in high overhead position with extended elbows does not reduce the workload dues.

We’ve also seen that there are higher expectations for exoskeletons among the customers than the market can provide in reality. Setting realistic expectations of the usability of exoskeleton is relevant; how much it can help and decrease the load, in which tasks it is beneficial to use and how to use it. We have seen further development need especially among back support exoskeleton which should allow wider range of motion of the hip for legs apart-kneeling position and stair climbing. Newcomers in the market have been taking this into account when developing so called soft exoskeletons.


Pricing is also restricting wider use of exoskeletons. Investing from 5 000€ up to10 000€ to one piece is a lot of an exoskeleton that may not necessary fit to all workers. We encourage you to gather your facts and objective data of the workload before considering purchasing the exoskeleton and screen the workers' physical load after getting one in use. Be aware about the benefits of the exoskeleton and improve the work constantly.







Sources:

[1] Safety and Health Magazine, 138 million years? Researchers explore the human cost of MSDs, December 9, 2020. https://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/20594-million-years-researchers-explore-the-human-cost-of-msds [2] Hannah Free, MPH1; Matthew R. Groenewold, PhD1; Sara E. Luckhaupt, MD, Lifetime Prevalence of Self-Reported Work-Related Health Problems Among U.S. Workers — United States, 2018, April 3, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6913a1.htm [3] https://www.osha.gov/businesscase [4] European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), December 9, 2020 Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs: statistics, https://www2.slideshare.net/euosha/workrelated-musculoskeletal-disorders-msds-statistics






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