Friday, February 11, 2022

March of the Robots Continues Along the Supply Chain with Wearable Technology

Logistics Warehouses Will Appreciate the Development of Technical Help
Shipping News Feature

ITALY – A collaboration between two of the country's sibling companies is overseeing the development of innovative, wearable exoskeletons which can support the lumbosacral joint and reduce the burden on the human back during lifting activities, thus improving working conditions and quality for operators.

Anyone who has worked in a logistics facility where lifting, particularly of the constant and monotonous variety will welcome such innovations, once the sole priority of the science fiction genre. In a somewhat incestuous configuration Comau and IUVO, itself a spin-off company of the prestigious university Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, whose majority share is held by the Comau group, are to produce the products.

Conception, development and initial testing of wearable robotic technologies is being undertaken by IUVO whilst Comau’s role is to lead the engineering process related to the new exoskeletal device for lumbar support. When testing commences one of the country’s largest retail superstore group’s, Esselunga, will disperse the equipment for assessment amongst the chosen of its 24,000 employees, working out of some of its 159 facilities.

Testing and validation of the first prototypes will begin in the first quarter of 2022, while the first lumbar exoskeletons will be available in the second quarter of 2022. On announcing the project Giacomo Del Panta, Comau Chief Customer Officer, said:

“The collaboration with Esselunga, a reference point within Italy’s large-scale retail trade sector, for the creation of an exoskeleton for lumbar support, confirms Comau’s commitment to developing new technologies that ensure better ergonomics and operator well-being during heavy-duty tasks.

”Once again, Comau is leveraging technology to support mankind by reducing the physical impact of manual and repetitive operations. By paying attention to the health and well-being of operators, Comau confirms its pledge to sustainable and human-centred manufacturing processes.”

Such devices will be welcomed by many in the logistics field. Along the supply chain there are always problems when staff injure themselves, as with the recent claim against Amazon when a 24 kilogramme package was considered too heavy to be moved by one person. A long way from the hundredweight sacks regularly shifted by dock workers not so many years ago!

Comau and IUVO have already launched their MATE-XT upper limb exoskeleton which is designed to support the operator while performing manipulation tasks with raised arms. Data collected from numerous companies using this technology has shown that the MATE-XT technology can reduce effort by about 30% and improve productivity by about 10%. Nicola Vitiello, associate professor at Scuola Sant’Anna and co-founder of IUVO, concluded:

“The collaboration with Esselunga is a huge opportunity to further progress the development of wearable robotic technologies for the well-being of workers that are also easily usable in everyday life. Esselunga’s involvement early in the design process will be invaluable to our team of bio-engineers. Any technology that is created to help humans requires active participation by the end users during each stage, in order for it to be truly accepted.”

Photo: The existing Comau and IUVO MATE-XT exoskeleton for the upper limbs.