Exobition and Talk: workshop identifies challenges of exoskeleton implementation

19 July 2021 - Published by Amy McCready
A recap of TNO's recent Exobition and Talk, a workshop where SMEs, exoskeleton developers, and scientists came together to identify and address the barriers that stand in the way of companies adopting exoskeletons.

On the 24th of June, TNO organised the ‘Exobition and Talk’ workshop in Rotterdam for exoskeleton developers, new adopters and scientists to discuss and tackle the barriers to exoskeleton adoption.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are often unaware that exoskeletons could be an ideal solution to their strenuous, heavy work. That’s why this workshop aimed to raise awareness of these wearable devices and gather insights from companies about their challenges and requirements for successful exoskeleton adoption. 

Specifically, the workshop aimed to:

1) Connect exoskeleton developers with Dutch companies interested in exoskeletons
2) Identify and discuss challenges and barriers for exoskeleton implementation
3) Share TNO’s knowledge on the potential benefits of exoskeletons in industry 

Six of the main exoskeleton developers in Europe participated in the Exobition. The following back and arm exoskeletons were presented:

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As EXSKALLERATE’s goal is to accelerate the adoption of exoskeletons into construction and industry, companies from these sectors were invited to the workshop. A wide range of employees and/or managers from different occupations attended the workshop, such as tilers, logisticians, rail constructors, painters, floorers, aeroplane cleaners and concrete labourers.

During the 'Exobition' part of the event, each exoskeleton developer had 2 minutes to present their exoskeleton(s) to the participating companies. Then the companies had their chance to briefly introduce themselves, sharing their fields of expertise as well as any previous experience with exoskeletons. Then the companies had two hours to walk around, try on exoskeletons and get in contact with the developers. As well as the exoskeleton booths, posters were hanging in the hall, on which participants could share their opinion by pasting stickers.

 

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After the ‘Exobition’, the companies were divided into two groups for the 'Talk' half of the event. One group discussed the challenges and barriers to exoskeleton implementation of back exoskeletons, and the other group focused on arm exoskeletons.  During these group discussions, the companies shared both their positive and negative experiences with exoskeletons and discussed potential use cases for their companies. TNO further explored these potential use cases by writing down the positions of the employees, the frequency of them, and potential factors that might influence acceptance in these specific working environments. 

Some important observations were collected during the discussions: 

1) Before committing to an exoskeleton, a company should check whether there are other ‘simpler’ solutions available. 

2) Making a good analysis of the usability and potential effectiveness of an exoskeleton prior to testing and implementation is very important. 

3) Existing exoskeletons are quite similar but do show some differences in comfort, degree of freedom (motion), and level of mechanical support. 

4) Detailed instructions on how to use the exoskeleton and how to adjust the exoskeleton to the user are key.

5) Be aware of your goal: is that the health of the employees or improving your company's efficiency? 

6) To reach a high level of acceptance, the users have to feel the positive effects of the exoskeleton. 

7) Implementing an exoskeleton in a team, as opposed to an individual worker, might ease the implementation process.

The Exobition and Talk was an insightful session on the challenges, barriers and concerns of exoskeleton implementation. TNO is looking forward to several visits to different companies so they can observe their working environment and potentially perform field studies with different exoskeletons in the future.

For more information, contact Saskia Baltrusch at saskia.baltrusch@tno.nl