Inbound Logistics | January 2022

From the lab to the warehouse, exosuits gain ground in the quest for warehouse safety. Jokingly known as “Iron Man” body armour, exoskeletons do seem almost superhuman in their ability to protect workers from repetitive injuries like sprains and strains. These wearable devices, most common in industrial and warehouse settings, are engineered to reduce muscle strain and make lifting less stressful on the body, resulting in fewer workplace injuries. While exoskeletons are still fairly new on the market, one manufacturer, SuitX, believes they are destined for broad use—even beyond warehouses. “There is no doubt in my mind that these devices will eventually be sold at hardware stores. As the prices come down, you’ll be able to simply buy them at Home Depot,” SuitX founder, Dr. Homayoon Kazerooni, told the BBC in April. SuitX, which began in the Robotics and Human Engineering Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, specializes in the research and development of occupational and medical exoskeletons, and was just acquired by Ottobock, a leading global innovator for prosthetics, orthotics, and exoskeletons, based in Austin, Texas. The SuitX line includes three products, one each for shoulders, back, and legs (they can be worn separately or combined), all designed to reduce strain. Also spun out of a university lab—in this case, Harvard—Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Verve Motion offers another type of exoskeleton, aimed at incorporating lift-assist technology in a wearable format. Verve Motion’s product is worn like a backpack, with additional components that wrap around the thighs. The suit applies assistance in parallel with the user’s muscles and responds to their movement in milliseconds. “With this combination, everything that the user lifts becomes about 40% lighter,” explains Ignacio Galiana, CEO of Verve Motion. “So think about a worker in logistics, lifting tens of thousands of pounds every day, we can reduce about 10,000 pounds off their backs every day.” The suit also tracks and measures how wearers are moving, which allows the company to then integrate more ergonomic and safety initiatives to improve overall safety in the warehouse.

The Paexo Back exoskeleton from Ottobock reduces the strain on the back when lifting heavy objects.

After completing a recent pilot program which proved that Verve’s suits enhance the safety and effectiveness of its grocery distribution center associates, Verve customer ADUSA Supply Chain—a family of companies that support the omnichannel grocery brands of Ahold Delhaize USA, which include Food Lion, Giant Food, The GIANT Company, Hannaford and Stop & Shop— is planning to expand its use of exosuits to 250 workers in its facilities. During the pilot, feedback from wearers showed a vast majority reporting reduced fatigue, soreness and better posture, according to Chris Lewis, President, ADUSA Supply Chain. “We’re proud to pilot solutions like this one that enable us and our partners to care for the workforce in distribution centers by helping associates reduce fatigue, work more effectively and reduce the likelihood of injuries,” Lewis notes. It may be too soon to say how widespread the adoption of exoskeletons is currently, but Ottobock expects that the market for exoskeletons in the professional environment will multiply to several hundred million USD by 2025. And the current need is easy to see: More than 1 million back injuries occur annually in U.S. workspaces, according to the Department of Labor, which leads to more than 260 million workdays lost due to back injury. And the resulting benefit for workers is already clear: “Workers using our exosuits feel much, much better at the end of the day,” Galiana says.

188 Inbound Logistics • January 2022

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