Exoskeleton takes on the building industry

The agreement was ratified last July. Hilti, a company founded in Liechtenstein that produces and sells tools for construction professionals, and Ottobock, a medical equipment company, combine their know-how. All this in order to offer exoskeletons adapted to the construction sector. As a reminder, professional exoskeletons (literally external skeletons) are motorized devices attached to one or more limbs of the human body to restore its mobility or increase its capacities.

Construction professionals are very exposed to MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) and other health problems. They will benefit from a combined expertise in terms of safety, health protection and biomechanics. Overview of this major breakthrough for the sector.

Are exoskeletons fashionable ?

Since the European Union report officially recognizing their usefulness in 2019, exoskeletons have been increasingly considered by professionals wanting to improve well-being at work. Although the report recognized improvements had to be created to facilitate their use. Their effectiveness is however indisputable for repetitive work carried out above the head or the shoulders. Which is the case with construction. “Exoskeletons are a real underlying trend for us. They provide some relief in strenuous physical activity, such as you can find on construction sites, ”says Johannes Wilfried Huber, Member of the Executive Committee at Hilti.

German firm Ottobock has been developing a range of exoskeletons since 2012, called Paexo. It has 500 exoskeleton projects in its existence, as part of the creation of medical equipment. Especially in the craft and automotive sectors. From now on, it will equip the construction equipment specialist in Lichtenstein.

A first model by 2021

The first product resulting from this collaboration will be marketed by Hilti in early 2021. It is the EXO-O1 system. It is a passive model that does not require any power supply. The weight of the arms will be transferred to the hips via arm shells and a mechanical system of traction cables. The peaks of stress exerted on the muscles will thus be reduced by up to 47%. This relieves the shoulders by helping to reduce pressure points.

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Beyond the marketing of the first model, the announcement relates mainly to the start of a joint official program in research and development. “Our technology partnership is the first step in the development of other innovative and customer-oriented systems,” says Ottobock. It is therefore a safe bet that construction professionals will soon see more sophisticated electric models appear. The system also reduces fatigue, which allows for increased productivity.

Medical equipment for more well-being

This preventive relief policy aims to reduce the number of musculoskeletal diseases. These conditions are in fact the main causes of occupational diseases. Absenteeism and the pain of an employee are a cost. An astronomical cost that decision-makers are beginning to foresee. And the public health system, also directly impacted. This is why initiatives are multiplying. Initiatives often led by insurers, on the front line to cover costs.

So construction workers can smile. Because they will be the first to benefit from this partnership between Hilti and Ottobock. To exercise their profession without musculoskeletal pain. But let us remember the importance of research & development. For the moment, the use of exoskeletons in the context of professional activity is not without risk. In any case, this is what the geriatric nurses who had served as guinea pigs for the study carried out by the EU testified. Case to be continued.