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Exoskeletons: Wearable robots for healthier working conditions

DB Schenker has extensively investigated the use of exoskeletons at several logistics locations in Germany, in order to relieve warehouse personnel of physically-demanding tasks in the long term.

The latest sensor and actuator technology offers employees a real relief when used for a few years for the repeated lifting of heavy loads. Exoskeletons can make employees’ tasks more feasible and less harmful to the health of their backs. These “outer skeletons” are strapped on by employees when doing physically demanding work. DB Schenker Germany has now tested the usage of these supporting robots in several logistics locations.

Exoskeletons are supporting structures carried on the body which support movement sequences with electro-mechanical assistance. In addition to ergonomically designed workstations, they are intended to support warehouse employees in lifting and rotating their bodies.
In particular, the lumbar vertebrae and the back muscles are spared the full load. The strain on these parts of the body is often the cause of health problems and inability to work.
In the warehouse environment, employees are often still responsible for performing physically demanding tasks, such as lifting loads from their packaging or removing goods from floor areas in the picking area.

                      

Also the active (or back) exoskeleton "Cray X" of the German manufacturer German Bionic was extensively tested by the warehouse personnel.


In the long term, this can put a great strain on the body and lead to considerable health impairments for the employees. While general lifting activities can simply be delegated to machines such as forklifts or robots, lifting out is still too complex for the control technology of these machines. An exoskeleton combines the power of the machine with the motor competence of humans.

As part of the Graduate Summer School at the University of Dortmund, DB Schenker invited around 20 doctoral students from various faculties to Cologne. Here, they took part in the practical test for the exoskeletons at the supplier park of a renowned automobile manufacturer.



                                                               

“The feedback from the doctoral students and DB Schenker employees after the test was very positive and once again confirmed that the long-term use, in conjunction with ergonomically optimally-designed logistics processes, can improve the health of the employees.
In the coming months, we will now be analyzing the results in detail and checking whether the exoskeletons will then be included in the area of process optimization at DB Schenker.”

- Gerald Mueller, Head of Process and Efficiency Management

During the pilot project, the focus was on the picking and sequencing of packages weighing up to 15 kilograms. Employees equipped with an exoskeleton removed the packages from storage racks and then placed them on pallets. The exoskeleton supported the movement sequences.