Exoskeletons for Health.

Effect of exoskeletons in reducing the physical load in heavy work.

Still many workers are daily exposed to heavy work and associated health risks. In heavy work that is difficult-to-automate and where workers are mobile, exoskeletons could be a relevant strategy to reduce the physical load, thereby reducing physical health risks and potentially contributing to a sustainable employment of people. The objective of this project is to explore the potential of exoskeletons, specifically of arm-support exoskeletons, i.e. exoskeletons that give support in work with elevated arms (e.g. above-shoulder work).

Their review showed variety of arm-support exoskeletons. It appears that (passive) exoskeletons can lead to a significant reduction in muscle activity in the shoulder region (up to 50%), particularly in (quasi-)static work situations. This would result in lower internal forces on shoulder structures and less fatigue.
They evaluated a prototype of an arm-support exoskeleton, namely SKELEX, on many aspects, e.g. anatomical fit, usability, comfort and (assumed) biomechanical effectivity. This resulted in a long list of issues of relevance for improvement. In a laboratory study they used an improved SKELEX and confirmed earlier results: significant reductions in muscle activity, joint moments, fatigue development, and endurance. Additionally, they showed the dependency of these results on the angle of arm elevation.

In field-studies on various kinds of activity in aircraft assembly they found that the variation in activity (within a job) affects acceptance. In monotonous and static work, the wearing of an exoskeleton is accepted by workers. In more dynamic work, the increased probability that the exoskeletons hinders in part of the movements will lower the acceptance

They conclude that in specific ‘quasi-static work situations a passive arm-support exoskelet can be accepted and be effective in lowering the physiological and biomechanical loading in the shoulder region. This shows the potential to increase the sustainable employability (which can only be confirmed in large intervention studies).

This project performed a review on the state of the art of exoskeletons, a laboratory study and a field study in aircraft assembly. They concluded that exoskeletons may lower the biomechanical loads but this is highly depending on the type of tasks and postures and movements involved.
Technology Readiness Level (TRL)
4 - 6
Time period
12 months