Airports in chaos this holiday season: Exoskeletons for baggage handlers can lend support

Up to 30 kg of support per lifting movement: Baggage handlers currently haul hundreds of bags per hour. The German Bionic Cray X exoskeleton, already extensively used in the logistics field, can protect these workers’ backs – as already the case at Stuttgart airport.

The summer holiday season has begun and along with it has brought chaotic scenes at airports throughout Europe, the USA, and the rest of the world. Flight cancellations and delays are commonplace. Often, this is largely the result of having too few baggage handlers on duty, who take on the strenuous task of hauling and stacking hundreds of bags per hour each day. Currently, it is not unusual for half of the shifts to be cancelled due to increased back pain and other problems caused by the extra work. Even if already planned, new personnel is likely to arrive too late to deal with the acute summer period. Equipping existing employees with back-protecting exoskeletons would comprise a practical solution that can be implemented relatively swiftly. The Cray X from German Bionic is, for example, already successfully being used at Stuttgart airport.
It’s no surprise that the current situation in the stalled baggage handling areas is detrimental to employees’ health. “Hauling luggage is quite literally back-breaking work. When the baggage handling workload is hugely increased like it is right now, and often requiring staff to work six days at a stretch, there comes a point where the backs won’t be able to take the strain anymore,” says Armin G. Schmidt, co-founder and CEO of German Bionic. “Our exoskeleton is designed to help address precisely this situation – not only in the acute situation, but above all for the long haul. Furthermore, the ergonomic protection it provides for the overall health, safety, and wellbeing of staff can also be a convincing argument when it comes to attracting and hiring urgently needed new workers.”

Sending a clear signal about protecting the health of workers

The compact, lightweight power suit by German Bionic can be worn like a backpack, delivers up to 30 kilogram of support per lifting movement, provides active walking assistance, and is integrated into the digital workflow through German Bionic’s IO platform. The powered exoskeleton represents the ideal case scenario: human and machine interacting seamlessly and intuitively with each other.

It is already widely proven in multiple applications as being highly effective in protecting the lower back of employees involved in heavy lifting: in companies including Ikea, Fiege or DPD, but also at Stuttgart airport for the past two years, where it has been sending out a strong message about the importance of protecting the health of its workers. Stuttgart airport is the first airport in Europe to use the intelligent power suit Cray X in baggage handling to relieve the physical strain on its workers and to safeguard employee health both in the short and long term.

Holistic approach to health and occupational safety

The smart power suit can be individually adjusted to almost every body size and effortlessly adapts and augments the movements of the wearer without interfering in the work space. This means the exoskeleton enables the inclusion of even those people who were previously never considered for heavier manual work. The Cray X is also equipped with Smart Safety Companion, developed by German Bionic. This intelligent, early warning system for ergonomics prevents incorrect postures and lifting techniques, thus avoiding errors and injuries caused by excessive strain. Moreover, the Cray X is the world’s first and only robotic exoskeleton with TÜV certification.

A major additional benefit: Exoskeletons assist in the recruitment for manual handling jobs

Another huge benefit of the Cray X: providing a significant boost to the appeal of the company for potential new employees as it underscores a company’s attention to the health and occupational safety of its employees. Appreciating the work conducted by employees is becoming increasingly important in order to attract talented new staff, especially in manual workplaces with high physical demands, and to retain and keep existing and experienced workers highly motivated. “For us, it is important to give physical labor the recognition it deserves,” says Norma Steller, CPO at German Bionic. “When employees go home proud of their work and less exhausted at the end of the day, I think that is a good start.”