Robotic Suit for Construction Workers

 In Construction, Safety

Construction workers are prone to injury from the daily tasks of bending, squatting and lifting that put extra stressors on their backs, joints, nerves and muscles. The American Chiropractic Association conducted a study that showed that 70% of construction workers experience lower back pain over a 1 year period, which can often lead to depression and mental illness, says the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health

A study conducted by Harvard University shows that the construction industry has one of the highest rates of work-related injuries and suicides, and it also has a high prevalence of musculoskeletal pain among its workers. Studies have found that 40% of construction workers over the age of 50 experience chronic back pain, and injured workers are 45% more likely to be diagnosed with depression than non-injured workers. It has also been found that construction workers have double the suicide rate of the general population. 

The most common causes of back pain among construction workers are:

  • sudden movement
  • lifting of heavy objects
  • bending the back while lifting
  • lifting with forceful movement
  • repetitive lifting of awkwardly shaped items
  • reaching and lifting
  • twisting and lifting simultaneously, especially from digging and shoveling
  • whole body vibration from the use of heavy equipment, or from driving lift trucks, etc. 

To combat the physical and psychological effects of these daily tasks, a company called suitX has designed and developed a robotic, exoskeleton-type suit. It is said to lower fatigue and increase productivity by reducing force on the body through load distribution.  

How does it work? 

The MAX (Modular Agile eXoskeleton) system is composed of three modules: backX, shoulderX and legX, each of which target and support the body part contained in the product name. The modular system allows wearers to use one, two or all three of the modules at a time depending on the work required. The MAX provides the most support since it is comprised of all three modules.

The University of California conducted extensive laboratory evaluations on MAX and indicated that the system reduces muscle force required to complete tasks by as much as 60%. The product – comprised of all three modules – was tested in various fields including construction sites, material handling and logistics settings, shipbuilding facilities, foundries, assembly lines, airport baggage handling sites, and other industries. 

The three modules:

The backX was designed to help workers in jobs where the common tasks involve repetitive movements and bending over for extended periods of time. It is often thought that lifting would be the largest cause of back injury, but the leading cause is actually torque. When workers bend over or reach, the weight of the upper body can create large torques in the lower back. 

ShoulderX reduces gravity-induced forces at the shoulder complex, enabling the wearer to perform above-chest level tasks for longer durations and with less effort. It can be tuned for different levels of support depending on the wearers’ needs. The system transfers forces from the arms and shoulders to hips when worn alone, and it transfers forces to the ground when worn with legX.

legX gives support to workers’ legs that allows them to squat repeatedly or for long periods of time by reducing knee joint and quadriceps muscle forces. The amount of support can be adjusted to suit the needs and weight of the user, and it is offered with a custom work boot. The system can distinguish between different types of movement like walking versus squatting, and it only provides support when needed. It also has a locking mechanism that allows the user to use the system like a chair. 

After watching the video, it is apparent that this device could greatly benefit the construction industry along with all other industrial fields. It gives support to the back, shoulders and knees, which is where 90% of injuries occur. If we can reduce the number of work-related injuries in construction, the suicide rate in the industry would likely decrease as well. 

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