Exoskeletons in the Food Processing and Logistics Sector

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September 21, 2022


Food & Nutrition / Healthcare


Exoskeletons in the Food Processing and Logistics Sector

In the last few years, the food processing industry has seen a major change in its operations. Their factory and warehouse employees are now equipped with exoskeletons. This adoption makes a lot of sense as they spend most of the day working on their feet, lifting and moving heavy objects or performing repetitive, overhead tasks. As a result, the physical strain on the workers is high, and can affect both their performance at the workplace and cause severe musculoskeletal problems in the long term.

Exoskeletons can help mitigate this strain by working as a passive (or active) support system for the employees. In the food processing sector, “passive” exoskeletons are the most prevalent. As technology advances, the adoption of exoskeletons has become a lot faster and easier. Moreover, empowering employees with exoskeletons reduces worker fatigue and injuries, while improving productivity. Some companies have even listed exoskeletons as mandatory PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in the workspace, valuable for employee safety.

Exoskeletons Reduce Injury Risk in Food Processing

In the food processing industry, certain tasks require human intervention and cannot be left to the machines. The industry requires significant upper-body endurance as workers are performing repetitive tasks, in most cases overhead. This makes exoskeletons the perfect solution to provide protection for workers. The mechanical, ergonomic exoskeletons allow workers to complete physically intensive tasks without getting injured, creating a safer workplace environment. The exoskeletons reduce strain on the workers by supporting them while performing these tasks, reducing worker fatigue. Also, this assistance minimizes the possibility of injuries, saving companies nearly a billion dollars per week in compensation. Furthermore, they are designed with practicality in mind. Therefore, the exoskeletons do not impede worker’s movement and allow full range of motion.

Atoun, a Japanese exoskeleton manufacturer, is looking to mitigate the strain on workers in the food industry with their “Powered Wear Atoun Model Y.” Described as a wearable robot, the exoskeleton is designed to reduce the physical burden on the workers and improve their efficiency. Recently, the company equipped the staff of Hamada Kagaku – a food recycling business – with exoskeletons. The staff working in these processing centers deal with heavy containers of beef and pig fats on a daily basis. This constant strain on their backs can cause injury and put them out of commission for at least a week. The exoskeletons worn by the workers provide valuable lumbar support that help reduce this strain. The success of this collaboration has encouraged Atoun to continue their efforts to reform the workplace experience using exoskeletons.

Since 2005, Ekso Bionics has designed and developed exoskeleton technology to enhance natural abilities and improve quality of life. Their latest offering, the EVO, is explicitly designed to assist workers in their daily activities and reduce workplace injuries. Ekso tied up with Cloverdale Foods Company – a fourth generation, family-owned meat company – to equip Cloverdale’s warehouse workers with the EVO exoskeleton. Using a subscription-based model, Ekso was able to provide Cloverdale with exoskeletons at an affordable cost. This foray into the food processing sector clearly shows the benefits of such a product in this field.

Exoskeletons: A Surprisingly Cheap Solution

Not only are exoskeleton suits useful in mitigating workplace injuries caused by heavy lifting and repetitive motions, they also are not very expensive. Hence, they are affordable and easy to adopt for organizations of any size. They are also very simple to use.

The advancements in technology have made exoskeletons a viable and cost-effective solution to mitigate workplace injuries. Manufacturers can design exoskeletons to suit a business’ specific needs. In some cases, they can even build custom exoskeletons for each employee. The process is quick, and manufacturers can have custom exoskeletons ready for use within weeks. These custom suits are available at prices as low as $1,200, and can reduce the stress experienced by workers by up to 30%.

The meat packing and processing industry in New Zealand has also realized the benefit of adopting exoskeletons in their day to day operations. With the help of Meat Industry Association (MIA) and Worksafe New Zealand, the employees in the New Zealand meat processing sector are experimenting with Suit-X Exoskeleton. The suit is developed by US-based Suit X and is designed to reduce the risk of injury and improve productivity among the workers. The exoskeleton is a spring-loaded, non-mechanical device designed specifically to support workers performing repetitive tasks.

Apart from food processing, exoskeletons can also be used to empower food delivery executives. Recently, Eleme, a food delivery platform in China, teamed up with Shanghai-based ULS Robotics to equip their delivery executives with exoskeletons. With the help of the HEMS-GS Heavy Lower Limb Exoskeleton Robot, delivery executives were able to carry three times the usual load in one trip. The product is still in its testing-phase and will not enter the market any time soon. But, according to ULS Robotics, the final product will allow delivery executives to carry weights of up to 50 kg with the same effort they would apply while carrying a laptop. You can’t help but wonder how the future of the food industry will change with the adoption of exoskeletons.

The Future of Exoskeletons

As with almost every other technology in the world, exoskeletons were also first developed for military use. But, the benefits of such a technology is not limited to just military use as more and more industries have tried to integrate exoskeletons into their businesses in recent years.

Since the technology is new to the market, there are still some misconceptions surrounding it. For example, the weight of the skeleton itself can become burdensome over time or that they can cause muscle atrophy. Although this is not the case, such information can prevent companies from adopting this technology. Hence, they need to be addressed first if the technology wants to see widespread adoption in the food processing and logistics industries. But we can stay assured that ergonomic and affordable exoskeleton technology is one of the best options to assist workers in the food processing and logistics industry as it creates safer work environments for them and improves their productivity.

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