Exoskeletons offer manufacturers a comfortable, reliable, and affordable way to help reduce the risk of back pain for their workers.
Manufacturing is a vital industry that feeds and supplies the world's needs. These jobs are labor intensive. They're diverse. And they account for a significant number of injuries (Abdalla et al., 2017). As an ergonomics consultant, I had the opportunity to spend lots of time with the workers at a factory where cookies and crackers were made. (It remains one of the largest manufacturers of this kind in the world.) And no matter which department I entered, I saw people reaching, leaning, bending, and lifting—all of which can lead to back pain and injury.
In this post, we continue our look at 5 Industries Ready to Reduce Back Pain—and see how exoskeleton technology is ready to comfortably, functionally, and affordably reduce risk to workers in manufacturing.
Why Back Pain Is So Common
From the factory to the warehouse, the hard labor of workers in manufacturing is essential. For example, inside the cookie and cracker factory, you’ll see workers bend to hook up train cars to pump ingredients into the plant; bend to scrape dough out of hoppers; bend to clear jams on conveyors; bend to blow dust and debris out from under ovens. They’ll bend and lift ingredient bags, products, tools, machine parts, supplies, and more. In my work as a consultant, not a day went by that I wasn’t asked to help people with their back pain. It’s easy to understand why.
Where Exoskeleton Adoption Has Been
Manufacturers have been testing and cautiously adopting exoskeletons to address health problems for years. Automotive and aerospace manufacturers have led the way as exoskeleton early adopters. In recent years, Toyota became the first manufacturer to declare shoulder-assist exoskeletons mandatory personal protective equipment (PPE) for certain overhead work processes. Now consider the work in the cookie and cracker factory described above—then consider that back pain’s economic cost is estimated to be over $100 billion a year for medical care, workers compensation, and time lost from work (Katz, 2006). If shoulder-assist exoskeletons are now PPE to reduce the risk for shoulder injuries, what about PPE to reduce the risk for back injuries?
How the Apex Supports a Worker’s Back
Workers at the cookie and cracker manufacturer still bend and lift as much today as when I was providing ergonomics consulting and onsite physical therapy—which is why they are considering exos for certain jobs and tasks in their factories, warehouses, and distribution centers. During a recent visit to the plant, I provided their workers and managers with an opportunity to test five different back-assist exoskeletons for bending and lifting tasks. And at the end of the day, they chose the HeroWear Apex. With its ease-of-use, comfort, assistance, and price, the Apex redefines back-assist exos. Because:
- The Apex is comfortable. Enabling workers to wear a lightweight exosuit like clothing, without the weight of motors or batteries.
- The Apex is functional. Effectively taking over 50 lbs. of strain off the back without restricting movement for workers who bend, reach, lift, and lean.
- The Apex is affordable. Making back-assist exos a cost-effective option for worker PPE, complete with customer support.
- The Apex is for all. Giving manufacturers the ability to custom fit their entire workforce of men and women.
Factory workers know exactly what equipment they prefer to use and why. They, along with workers across a variety of industries, are the experts we listen to. We appreciate their industry wisdom, honest feedback, and, most of all, the work they do each day to feed and supply our world. This is why we believe they deserve better than to suffer from back pain. This is why they deserve the Apex.
This article is the second of five in our 5 Industries Ready to Reduce Back Pain series. Read all five to see how the logistics, construction, agriculture, and healthcare sectors can benefit from new, work-ready exoskeleton technology.