The development of an intelligent, easy-to-manoeuvre and wearable body exoskeleton is set to begin this month, in an attempt to reduce manual work-related injury in the EU region.
The RoboMate research project’s objective to design a human-guided exoskeleton is being carried out by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO along with 11 other European partners.
The drive for developing the exoskeleton derives from the high risk of severe injury that some manual workers face. Even with today’s sophisticated manufacturing processes, some manual work tasks are too complex to automate. This is especially the case in work involving assembly and dismantling operations, which are common in the automotive or food processing industries, for example.
According to the Work Foundation Alliance (UK), as many as 44 million workers in the European Union are affected by work-place-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), representing a total annual cost of more than €240bn.
In developing the exoskeleton, human-guided manipulators merge with computer-controlled industrial robots in order to create a human-guided and computer-supported exoskeleton that can be used in various industries.
The development includes modelling and simulating the exoskeleton in a virtual-factory environment at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO.
Demonstrations of the prototype will be held at Indra SAS, a French company in the vehicle recycling sector, and COMPA, a Romanian automotive components manufacturer.
The Centro Ricerche Fiat (CRF) will test the exoskeleton in their lab and on the Fiat shop floor.
It is envisaged that RoboMate could enhance work conditions for load workers and facilitate repetitive lifting tasks, thereby reducing the incidence of work-place-related injury and disease. As a consequence, productivity, flexibility and the quality of production should realistically all increase
The three-year project is being funded with €4.5m from the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development of the European Union (FP7). It is being led by Professor Dr Hans Wernher van de Venn, Zurich University of Applied Science, and managed by accelopment AG in Switzerland.