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Supply Chain News: Is Iron Man Coming to Factory Floor?

 

Automakers Testing Exoskeletons for Workers on Factory Floor


Oct. 14, 2020
SCDigest Editorial Staff

In what is perhaps a clear picture of the future of factory work, high tech "exoskeletons" to augment human capabilities are coming to the factory floor.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Hyundai will test exoskeletons made by its own Hyundai Rotem unit in South Korea. After that, it plans to deploy the suits in one of its factories in Alabama late 2020 before a global rollout.

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A number of automobile manufacturers are evaluating the technology, including Hyundai, Ford and General Motors, according to a recent report by Bloomberg.

The factory floor Iron Man suits have their roots in development of technology assist people who lost the ability to walk or stand on their own. Applied to the factory worker, the suits reduce fatigue and help prevent injury. It is said to be particularly useful for repetitive processes that force some reason can't be automated.

Chinese firm ULS Robotics is developing three exoskeleton products that allow workers to hold and lift heavy equipment.

One device is for the upper body. Another is placed around a worker's waist. The third focuses on the lower limbs. Bloomberg says the first two weigh about seven kilograms each and allow a wearer to lift an additional 20 kilograms. They're powered by a lithium battery that has a life of about six to eight hours.

Tony Stark, welcome to the factory floor.

GM is testing some of ULS Robotics' products, as are China Southern Airlines, Shanghai Pudong International Airport and the new Beijing Daxing International Airport. Exoskeletons could be especially useful for ground-handling staff, ULS says.

Hyundai will test exoskeletons made by its own Hyundai Rotem unit in South Korea. After that, it plans to deploy the suits in one of its factories in Alabama late 2020 before a global rollout. Eventually, it plans to sell them to other automakers.



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In 2018, Ford announced workers in 15 of its plants who were performing repetitive overhead tasks would be aided from a new upper body exoskeletal technology. The suits were developed in-house, though Ford partnered with Ekso Bionics on the research.

Xu Zhenhua, the founder of ULS Robotics says many companies are increasing focus on corporate social responsibility and labor protection, and are thus making investments to avoid workplace-related injuries – especially with a generally aging workforce.

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