Are corporations willing to pay for industrial exoskeletons?

On April 16, SKOLKOVO Technopark hosted an international forum dedicated to one of the most pressing topics of the domestic economy – the robotization of industry. Within the framework of the forum there was a discussion between representatives of prominent startups, government agencies and scientific institutions, where the issue of the use of exoskeletons in industry became a stumbling block.
16 april 2019

For our readers, the journal "Intelligent Manufacturing" publishes a text broadcast of the conversation between Ekaterina Bereziy (Director of Business Development ExoAtlet), Alexei Gradovtsev (head of the Centre of digital innovations of “Gazprom Neft”) and Andrey Geregey (Federal State Budgetary Scientific Institution IZMEROV RESEARCH INSTITUTE OF OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH).

Why do we need exoskeletons, if we can remove a person from this process?  

Ekaterina Bereziy: "Today there are still a lot of ergonomic tasks that the robot simply cannot cope with such as storages to be sorted out, complex heavy elements and non-standard operations with moving. It may sound strange, but robotics is not always profitable. Often you just need to give additional tools to the person.

Andrew Geregey: "The designers of exoskeletons are not talking about the need for their use where for example, the task can be accomplished using the loader or using some other machines. We consider special physical conditions, where a special state of the body is necessary, where slopes are carried out, certain poses are taken and so on.”

Alexey Gradovtsev: "I will join the previous thesis. Exoskeleton is necessary for heavy work. Now employees of various companies do not always perform work with loads included in the norm, and more often than them. That is why we see first of all not the economic effect, but the potential to improve the safety of personnel.”

Sales of exoskeletons do not exceed 1000 pieces per year. And in some areas is up to 100 per year. What slows sales?

Ekaterina Bereziy: "Today, the owners of large enterprises do not always see the need to purchase exoskeletons, even when they are actually needed. It is necessary for the steel manufacturers to be equipped with exoskeletons, new standards of labor should appear. »

Andrew Geregey: "If you take only the Russian market, today these devices are not regulated the regulatory framework and protections. We have 11 classes of PPE. There are many factors of danger of work, including the severity of labor, the severity of portable items, slopes, loads on the musculoskeletal system. Development of legal documentation is the main task. Its solution will allow us to use industrial exoskeletons more actively. Mention in the technical regulations is the first step to the beginning of sales. But in order to amend a technical regulation, it is necessary to create a number of Standards for exoskeletons, with a list of technical requirements. »

Alexey Gradovtsev: "Another deterrent aspect is economic. Transition to exoskeletons has not been calculated yet. The visible economic effect is not often visible. It should be about the safety of staff rather than the economic impact. »

Ekaterina Bereziy: "This is the difference between small-scale mechanization and personal protective equipment. »

Active and passive exoskeletons will undergo regulations in a different order?

Alexey Gradovtsev: "I hope we can make an active exoskeleton become a robot. Requirements for robotics painted on dozens of sheets. »

Do you consider the development of the industry of exoskeletons like an important thing and why?

Alexey Gradovtsev: "This direction should be developed, in principle, as the rest of the machinery industry in the framework of Industry 4.0.  This question is broader, philosophical. We either want everything to develop or we will not develop anything. Now we are investing in innovation. We unload the staff and release it for other purposes, reach a new level of performance. Each innovation stimulates new innovations. »

Andrew Geregey: "What could be more important for labour protection than the health of the employee? While employers cannot give fully automated jobs, we will make sure that the danger of labor is minimal. If it will be made at the expense of means of protection and suits, this sphere is interesting to us. »

Ekaterina Bereziy: "A person should think, a person should not carry weights, we develop elegant solutions to make a person more thinking and reduce physical activity."