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Hilti Exoskeleton Improves Performance and Safety

by: Greg Sitek
In construction there’s always a couple of major concerns on the jobsite – performance and safety. Strangely, as performance slips so does the on-the-job safety factor.

Any job function that requires a construction worker to keep their arms raised up and over their head is where this risk is a reality.

Enter Hilti’s Wearable Exoskeleton, a human augmentation device to help contractors tackle health, safety, and labor shortage challenges on jobsites. The EXO-O1 is an innovation that is more connected to its customers than any tool of its time.

Wearable systems like exoskeletons will help reduce strain and fatigue for both experienced and novice users, at a time when the industry is managing a workforce shortage challenge.

A New Partnership
To create the EXO-O1, Hilti Group partnered with Ottobock, the global leader in prosthetics, orthotics and exoskeletons that help people increase and retain their physical independence. Hilti is currently in real-world jobsite testing and will be bringing the exoskeleton to the market later this year.

The Hilti Group has entered into a technology partnership with Ottobock SE & Co. KGaA to develop exoskeletal systems. Such solutions open new possibilities in terms of health protection and productivity and represent a future market in the construction industry.

Hilti and Ottobock are combining their know-how in the fields of safety, health protection and biomechanics to expand their portfolio of ergonomic solutions. Both companies have decades of experience in their respective fields and will cooperate in the area of research and development in the future.

“Exoskeletons are an important trend having great relevance for us,” explains Johannes Wilfried Huber, Head of Hilti’s Diamond Systems Business Unit. “They provide relief for physically demanding tasks, such as those performed on construction sites every day. In Ottobock we have the ideal partner to combine our user protection and ergonomics knowledge with 100 years of biomechanical expertise. Our technology partnership will serve as the basis for the development of additional innovative and customer-oriented systems.”

“We are delighted to be opening up a new area of application together with Hilti,” explains Dr. Sönke Rössing, Head of Ottobock Industrials. “We are building on our experience gained from more than 500 successful exoskeleton projects, including in the automotive industry and various trades. There is a great deal of potential for solutions that reduce the physical strain on workers in the construction industry. We want to jointly expand this pillar in the coming years.”

Dr. Rössing’s division has been developing industrial exoskeletons from the Paexo product range since 2012 to create healthier workplaces.

Benefits of the Exoskeleton
Hilti will launch the EXO-O1 this fall. It is a passive model that does not require an energy supply. The EXO-O1 is worn like a backpack and allows for virtually a full range of motion while being worn. The weight of the arms is transferred to the hips via the forearm supports using mechanical cable pulling technology. Independent studies and Ottobock research have shown that this reduces the peak load on the muscles and relieves shoulders by up to 47 percent.

Exoskeletons can therefore make a significant contribution to health protection, particularly regarding work performed above shoulder level and overhead work. In terms of the construction industry, this targets serial or continuous activities. Fatigue is also reduced. As a result, this type of work can be carried out over a longer period of time with much greater productivity.

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Over the longer-term preventive relief can help reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders in the shoulder area. These are some of the most common causes of worker disability in the construction industry and therefore pose a significant cost factor for companies and health care systems.

"We want to improve the health and safety of our customers, directly impacting jobsite productivity – so they can stay on time and on budget,” said Huber, Head of Business Unit Diamond Systems at Hilti Group, parent company of Hilti North America. “Customers that embrace innovation and invest in the latest health and safety technology will be better able to attract and retain the best people as well as keep their jobsites productive.”

The EXO-O1 is Hilti’s first foray into exoskeletons for the construction industry. There will be more human augmentation developments to come from the brand. The exoskeleton development is initially focused on overhead and shoulder height and above applications because this type of motion is so physically intensive and fatiguing.

The machinery is only part of the company’s solution. Hilti understands that for customers to embrace technology transformation, it requires organizational change management and a focus on people. That’s why they also plan to offer implementation, training and support services on site for customers and their teams.

Hilti says, “We have done extensive testing to better assure it is fit for construction sites, as we do with all products we bring to market. That is why we offer the EXO-O1 with the same service standards as other Hilti tools with Hilti Lifetime Service and Hilti’s Tool Fleet Management Program.”

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