Back Solutions from Ottobock Bionic Exoskeletons
There are still many production and logistics tasks that machines cannot automatically fulfill, for example, because they require the flexibility that only human intelligence can provide. Nevertheless, people continue to be employed here – over 14 million in the U.S. alone. The average worker lifts and moves over 180,000 kilograms in the form of goods, packages, or other objects in just one working week. That is equivalent to the weight of a Boeing 747.
Hard work, every day: employees in production and logistics
This repetitive strain takes a toll on the body: employees in the logistics sector miss up to 32 days of work per year due to back pain and other occupational injuries. Along with other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), back pain accounts for a good third of sick leave in these industries – and up to 40 percent of sickness absences in logistics companies such as Amazon.
What exactly is an exoskeleton?
An exoskeleton is a support structure worn on the body, relieving the musculoskeletal system during specific activities. At Ottobock, 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 Ottobock 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 many complex and dynamic processes are happening simultaneously. 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?
Organizations follow the established “TOP principle” of occupational safety and ergonomics to reduce or completely eliminate physical strain on employees. The principle stands for the hierarchy of technical, organizational & personal measures 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 employees’ work through technical solutions in distribution and fulfillment centers, like stationary lifting cranes. Unfortunately, in addition to high deployment costs, users may perceive these systems as slow and inflexible and fail to adopt them. Thus, a more flexible solution is needed.
Enter our Ottobock Back exoskeleton, 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 particular focus is placed on the workers’ freedom of movement.
Challenges of the logistics industry
Time is money, especially for employees’ valuable working time. In the U.S., 60 million work shifts went unfilled in 2013 due to work-related illnesses and injuries. For employers, this is a huge financial burden. Because in addition to continued pay and lost profits, employers must consider factors such as recruiting, hiring, and training replacement workers. Annual economic losses of over $50 billion due to work-related illness are the norm.
Two current developments further exacerbate this problem. On the one hand, young employees value a workplace designed to protect their health and provide safe working conditions. After all, they want to be able to actively make the most of their free time at the end of their shifts – the keyword here is work-life balance. A job that damages the body by repeatedly overstraining it over a long time thus loses its appeal. On the other hand, production and logistics employees reflect society’s age structure and are therefore older on average. This can make for a higher absence rate if employers do not counteract the development of work-related back disorders among their employees. At the same time, every company benefits from older employees’ experience and valuable know-how. So it makes double sense to actively invest in maintaining good back health among all employees.
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 essential 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
Strong support: The Ottobock back solutions
For Ottobock Bionic Exoskeletons, the healthy back of workers in physically demanding areas is an important asset. With Ottobock Back and Paexo Soft Back, we have developed two products that support their wearers efficiently and safely when moving smaller and larger loads – precisely as they need it. From the initial idea to the final version, we were guided by real people’s problems: production and logistics employees were significantly involved in every development step.
Intelligent innovation: Ottobock Back
The secret behind the efficiency of Ottobock Back: the use of a sophisticated biomechanical principle. Here, the exoskeleton takes the load off in the shoulder area and transfers its energy to the thighs. The energy storage mechanism absorbs the force when the wearer flexes at the hips by leaning forward and downward. When the upper body is straightened again, the exoskeleton releases the stored energy in a supportive manner and thus relieves the lower back – loads of up to 25 kilograms or 55 lbs are compensated in this way.
Ottobock Back not only does not require an additional power supply but also differentiates purely mechanically between bending and walking. The wearer thus maintains full freedom of movement at all times and still receives support automatically when he or she needs it – the wearer sets the level himself or herself using the infinitely variable knob.
Paexo Soft Back
The Paexo Soft Back, just like the Ottobock Back, supports the lower back. Unlike the Ottobock 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.
Healthy backs – for satisfied employees and employers
In production and logistics, the back health of employees is a cornerstone of the company’s success – the entire operational process stands and falls with them. With Ottobock Back and Ottobock Soft Back, we have developed two innovative solutions that make it easier to maintain employee health and enable a safe performance of physically demanding activities. In the long term, this reduces the risk of absences due to illness and increases safety in the workplace. An employer who invests in the health of their employees is an attractive employer – for junior staff and for long-serving employees with additional relief needs.
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 Ottobock Back. Our Experience Packages allow you to pilot Ottobock Back at your facility, with us at your side providing on-site training and ongoing implementation support.
Our innovative solutions, based on orthopedic expertise, are suitable for almost any industry.
Selected use cases from 1000+ successful customer projects: