Exoskeletons in logistics
A workday in a logistics facility regularly involves handling hundreds of packages and items. Long-term effects on muscles and ligaments are inevitable, with back pain as one of the most obvious consequences. Back pain is one of the so-called musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and is one of the most common conditions in the logistics industry. Lifting and load handling activities are a large part of the daily work routine; hence, they are part of everyday life. Exoskeletons are a solution that helps to relieve the musculoskeletal system for employees in the logistics industry.
What exactly is an exoskeleton?
An exoskeleton is a support structure worn on the body, which provides relief for the musculoskeletal system during specific activities. At Ottobock Paexo, we have developed a portfolio of exoskeletons to address various musculoskeletal strains, such as in the back, shoulder, neck, and wrist areas. To address the high physical demands in the logistics industry, we have four helpful exoskeletons in our portfolio: the Paexo Back and Paexo Soft Back, as well as the Paexo Neck and Paexo Wrist.
Limits of automation & the TOP principle
The “human factor” is pivotal in logistics as there are many complex and dynamic processes happening at once. Until now, automation in logistics has been limited to standardized processes. Humans and the associated physical work and the strain on the musculoskeletal system will remain a mainstay in the logistics industry in the long term.
What are the limits of automation?
In order to reduce or completely eliminate physical strain on employees, organizations follow the established “TOP principle” of occupational safety and ergonomics. The principle stands for the hierarchy of technical, organizational & personal measures that a company should deploy to prevent strain on employees. According to the DGUV (German Social Accident Insurance), a combination of the three measures would be advisable, nevertheless, technical measures take priority. Accordingly, efforts are made to improve the work of employees through technical solutions in distribution and fulfillment centers, like stationary lifting cranes. Unfortunately, in addition to high deployment costs, users can perceive these systems as slow and inflexible, and may fail to adopt them. Thus, a more flexible solution is needed.
Enter our Paexo Back exoskeleton, which was developed in close cooperation with a leading international logistics service provider and at the logistics center of the Ottobock Group in Duderstadt. With 100 years of experience in the field of orthoses and prostheses, our development team knows about the problems of physical stress during physical work. A special focus is placed on the workers’ freedom of movement.
Challenges of the logistics industry
The logistics industry faces many challenges. Due to the rapidly growing volume of e-Commerce and, most recently, Covid-19, logistics and delivery have become a crucial factor in the value chain of companies. More than 3 million employees and around 279 billion euro in sales in 2019 make it a cornerstone of the national economy in Germany. Europe-wide, the market is estimated at more than 1,120 billion euros according to the industry association BLV, as well globalization is increasing the worldwide handling volume. On top of this, there are increased demands from consumers, such as timely deliveries. On the other hand, there is a shortage of skilled workers and an aging workforce. It is hardly surprising that the number of annual sick days in the industry is extremely high at 25.7 days, according to the BKK 2020 report. A large proportion of these lost days are due to musculoskeletal disorders, which also incur high costs.
Using exoskeletons pays off
- Reduction of lost workdays
- Flexibility compared to manipulators or other tools that are not accepted by users
- Becoming a more attractive employer
Success factors for the applications of exoskeletons in logistics
In goods and parcel warehouses, there is often a high turnover in the workforce. A mix of permanent and temporary staff, as well as working in different languages, makes it important that our exoskeletons are easy to use. Our answer to this is a specifically developed usability concept, where colors and pictograms help the user to put on and start using our exoskeletons. In addition, we work with training and explanatory videos to ensure a smooth deployment.
Activities in which exoskeletons are used in logistics
- Lifting, holding, carrying and setting down loads in warehouses of manufacturing companies, logistics service providers and in trade
- Manual activities in rack and pallet warehouses
- Loading and unloading of trucks and containers at loading ramps
- Order picking, as well as storage and retrieval
Paexo Back relieves pressure on the spine during high-frequency load handling. During deep bending movements to lift heavy loads, the Paexo Back provides up to 25 kg of relief in the lower back. The mechanism can independently distinguish between bending and walking, ensuring full freedom of movement when working in logistics centers. The applications for which the Paexo Back provides relief are the classic picking of packages and repalletizing. Particular focus is placed here on activities in which mesh pallets are used. Furthermore, Paexo Back exoskeletons are regularly used for loading and unloading trucks and containers.
The exoskeleton is the subject of studies and analyses.
Paexo Soft Back
The Paexo Soft Back, just like the Paexo Back, supports the lower back. Unlike the Paexo Back, however, the Soft Back is recommended for standing activities where only a slight bend is required for lifting. It is used in the logistics sector for order picking, handling lighter loads and lifting packages.
The Paexo Wrist provides effective wrist support for uniform load handling. The exoskeleton takes preventive action to avoid wrist inflammation. It is used in logistics for picking weights weighing an average of 15 lb.
The Paexo Neck relieves the neck area and the cervical spine. In the logistics sector, it is used for order picking in high-bay warehouses. It is individually adjustable, does not interfere with the operation of a forklift truck and can be easily removed.
Industrial exoskeletons – a solution for your company?
If we have piqued your interest, contact us for an ad-hoc analysis of your workstations or simply test our Paexo Back. Our Experience Packages allow you to pilot Paexo Back at your facility, with us at your side providing on-site training and ongoing implementation support.