Logistics giant DB Schenker has ended a test series applying and evaluating the daily use of exoskeletons at various warehouses. The purpose of the project is to determine whether this kind of physical support provided to ground handling staff is a relief in daily working processes and is beneficial to their health.
To find this out, employees equipped with exoskeletons had to remove items weighing up to 15 kilograms each from storage shelves and stack them nearby, over a longer period of time.
According to DB Schenker, the first findings have shown encouraging results. The feedback from the participants “was very positive and has confirmed once again that the permanent use (of exoskeletons) in combination with ergonomically designed logistics processes can be health promoting,” states Gerald Mueller, Head of Process and Efficiency Management, Schenker Deutschland AG.
Exoskeletons are on the advance
This doesn’t surprise speaker Eric Eitel of exoskeleton producer GBS – German Bionic Systems GmbH: “These body-worn, electro-mechanical support structures are preventive and supportive tools to protect the users’ spine and back muscles,” he explains, predicting them a great future.
Further to this Mr Eitel points out that, in spite of increasing automation and the progressive use of robots in logistics, there will always be many fields of activities where manpower is needed, and which are not suitable for full automation.
In case the final test results prove to be convincing, DB Schenker considers including exoskeletons in daily operation at the company’s warehouses. This way, health risks caused by physical overexertion can be minimized or totally prevented, the company states.
Provided this happens, it could be an important breakthrough for this new kind of man-machine interaction.
At first sight, exoskeletons remind you of a corset needed by disabled people to walk upright and keep their balance. However, this impression is immediately corrected once a user lifts a package, a crate of beer or other heavy items. Then the movements of the duo man-machine look very smooth.
Continued back strain is often the cause of illness and disability. This is supported by alarming statistics. According to medical surveys conducted in Germany, muscle and skeletal injuries account for 23 percent of all sick days, leading to a production loss of estimated 10 billion euros per year and 17 billion euros in gross value added.
Data submitted by clinics located all across Europe does not look any better. Accordingly, 32 percent of European workers move heavy items during more than 25 percent of their working time. Furthermore, 42 percent of them are also exposed to painful or tiring positions in their daily jobs.
Most valuable asset
Those mainly affected are warehouse staff working for furniture companies, at beverage distribution centers but also at freight terminals located on or in the vicinity of airports.
"Employees are our most important and valuable asset. Therefore, I am very pleased that we are once again taking a significant step towards testing better and, above all, healthier working conditions," says Thomas Schulz, Chief Human Resources Officer CHRO of Schenker AG. "It brings us closer to our goal of being the first choice for employees as an innovative and globally leading logistics service provider."