How exoskeletons can help plasterers in their everyday practice.

27 September 2022 - Published by Amy McCready
A recent field test by EXSKALLERATE partner TNO, together with Knauf and NOA, showed that a majority of plasterers equipped with an exoskeleton (Skelex) used it in daily practice. A vast majority (93%) of plasterers indicate that the use of an exoskeleton provides them with physical support, while 45% acknowledged that they felt less tired at the end of a day using the exoskeleton. 65% of participants expressed a desire to use an exoskeleton in the future and observed that it was particularly useful while plastering ceilings.

Photo courtesy of Knauf.

Previous research carried out by TNO in a controlled test situation showed that while using the Skelex exoskeleton, the muscle activity in the shoulders was reduced by up to 40% during plastering, with plasterers experiencing less physical strain on their arms and shoulders. The most recently completed field test answered the question of whether plasterers actually make use of the exoskeleton in their daily work, and gave an insight into their experiences.

Plastering is a physically demanding profession, posing a real risk of shoulder injuries. Plasterers work on walls from top to bottom, as well as on the ceiling, adopting different various postures and movements. The Skelex exoskeleton provides support when working with raised arms through a spring mechanism.

Over the course of six weeks, 39 plasterers were able to use the arm-supporting exoskeleton from Skelex. During that period, the plasterers were allowed to choose whether, and for which activities they wanted to wear the exoskeleton. Every day, following the end of the working day, participants filled out a questionnaire on their mobile phone. Additional questions were also asked at the end of each week. Upon completion of the six week period, an interview with each plasterer was arranged. This research is the first study worldwide on the actual use of an exoskeleton in practice over such a length of time.

 

Use:

The exoskeleton was used quite a lot from the first week, depending on the type of work. After that, usage remained stable, neither increasing or decreasing. For ceiling tasks, such as applying plaster, screeds, knives, sanding and sponging, the exoskeleton was used by most plasterers 'often' to 'always'. While undertaking wall tasks, most used the exoskeleton 'sometimes' to 'half the time'. The exoskeleton was not used during preparation tasks.

 

Experience:

The use of an exoskeleton does not come at the expense of performance. The plasterers indicated that the speed and quality of their work remain the same. The most commonly mentioned advantage was the physical support, while the most noted disadvantage was the hindrance to movement when working in small spaces. The advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages: 65% of plasterers wish to use the exoskeleton in the future.

 

Aijse de Vries, researcher from TNO: “Plastering is physically demanding work. Until now, there were hardly any opportunities to reduce the physical load. With the exoskeleton, that possibility does exist, as our previous controlled study already showed. It now also appears that many plasterers want to use the exoskeleton in their daily work. For those plasterers who want to use it, it would be beneficial if they could have the exoskeleton at their disposal.”

“We stand for a modern industry where it is a pleasure to work, and that is why we encourage developments such as this one that can contribute to this”, says John Kerstens, chairman of the Dutch Entrepreneurs Association for Finishing Construction Companies in the Netherlands (NOA).

Rob van Groningen, General Manager Knauf BV: “We are pleased with these results. They show that our target group benefits from an exoskeleton and is also sympathetic to it. Another TNO study commissioned by Knauf Group has shown that the arm-supporting exoskeleton also has a relieving effect for ceiling fitters. Reason enough for Knauf to encourage the acceptance and use of exoskeletons. Knauf will therefore soon be adding this proven exoskeleton to its product portfolio.”

 

This research was also featured on Dutch news. View the feature (in Dutch) here.

 

Please note, this research has not been funded by the EXSKALLERATE project. Therefore, it is not an Exskallerate activity.