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Wearable robotics shows promise for heavy manufacturing

Posted: 15 Dec 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering  Daewoo  wearable robotics  robotic exoskeleton 

The technology that is wearable robotics may be new to some but in fact has long been used in industries that include medical, defence and aerospace. Primarily geared to assist in human movement and boost body potential, robotic exoskeletons are now finding themselves in another sector that could greatly benefit from them: heavy manufacturing.

Jonathan Wilkins, marketing manager of European Automation probes into the emerging world of wearable robotics in industry.

Those of you who have seen the movie Aliens will be familiar with the power loader from the 1986 futuristic space horror classic. Used to move heavy equipment, the device has been unintentionally recreated in South Korea.

However, these exoskeletons are part of a test by Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, one of the largest ship building companies in the world. The wearable robotic suits are made of light-weight aluminium alloy and steel and are engineered to follow the wearer's movements.

Straps at the feet, thigh, waist and chest connect the user to the suit and allow the exoskeleton to move with the wearer and bear the heavy loads. A system consisting of hydraulic joints and small electric motors runs along the outside of the leg linking to a backpack, which powers and controls the rig.

The powerful exoskeleton is customisable too. Frames designed for individual tasks can be attached to the backpack, depending on the desired outcome. As well as enhancing the wearer's lifting potential, the suit can also be used for jobs that require precision. Because the suit takes most of the weight, workers can manipulate heavy components as though they were handling lighter objects.

Feedback from the South Korean shipbuilders has been positive on the whole. The majority were impressed that they were able to move loads repeatedly without strain, but testers reported that they would like to see the suit react faster to movement and have a bigger payload.

In their current prototype stage Daewoo's exoskeletons can help workers lift up to 30kg, but the creators believe that they can increase that to a potential 100kg.

The world's top three shipbuilding firms are South Korean Daewoo, Hyundai Heavy Industries and Samsung Heavy Industries. Their shipyards are renowned for their high level of automation in which robots run a large portion of a hugely complex assembly system. These suits seem to be the next innovative step.

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