IKEA and the German high-tech company German Bionic have jointly launched a pilot project for occupational health and safety 2.0 and sustainable healthy work at the logistics facility in Dortmund. The IKEA staff taking part have been using the intelligent power suits of robotics specialist German Bionic in the company’s own logistics center since mid-July 2019. The initiative aims to optimize occupational health and safety and to design future-oriented and lastingly healthy workplaces. “The perception of IKEA as an outstanding employer is linked to our company philosophy, which is based on community, respect and responsible dealings with our employees. Occupational safety, future-oriented workplaces and, of course, implementing the most modern tools for work, play a central role in this. The exoskeletons provide ergonomic support for heavy lifting, as they support and protect the backs of colleagues during physically demanding work,” explains Marc Pasztak, Team Leader Business Solution, IKEA Range & Supply, who is concerned with ergonomics in handling and storage at IKEA.
Intelligent power suits relieve back strain and protect against injuries and musculoskeletal disorders
What are exoskeletons and how do they support logistics employees in their physically demanding work? Intelligent power suits, also known as exoskeletons, are human-machine systems that combine human intelligence with machine power by supporting or amplifying the movements of the wearer. The Cray X active exoskeleton from robotics specialist German Bionic supports the lifting and moving of heavy loads while also optimizing work processes by preventing incorrect execution. The benefit for employees: Damage to the musculoskeletal system can thereby be avoided.
In contrast to ordinary mechanical exoskeletons, active exoskeletons such as the Cray X are driven by electric motors. This significantly reduces the total effort an employee needs to expend during lifting and therefore reduces the strain on the back. “Although the exoskeleton’s own weight is included in the overall energy balance, exoskeletons distribute the load to less sensitive parts of the body such as the upper back and legs. The power suits protect the particularly sensitive lower back and the pelvic girdle from excessive stresses. In addition, the exoskeleton provides greater stability during movements,” explains preventive physician Prof. Herbert Schuster. This is of particular importance when it comes to avoiding twisting movements in the lower back. During simultaneous twisting and bending, the intervertebral discs of the lower lumbar spine are subjected to an especially high punctual strain due to the shearing movement. Experts see the use of active exoskeletons as a means of optimizing workplaces ergonomically and thus preventing injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. “At IKEA, we take long-term responsibility for the health of our employees by utilizing tools that facilitate improved ergonomics. We are eager to learn how the new power suit will be accepted by our employees and what the results of the joint project will be,” concludes Pasztak.