In shipbuilding, the working environment is harsh. Overhead work, welding in very tight spaces or grinding in uncomfortable positions can harm the musculoskeletal system. Relief can be found in exoskeletons, which are now also being used at Meyer Werft. As part of a research project, the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD in Rostock, Germany evaluated the exoskeletons from various providers for use at the shipyard. In order to keep its employees healthy, the Meyer Werft shipyards in Rostock and Papenburg are slated to adopt special holding mechanisms to assist and facilitate movement, help maintain positions for longer and increase strength. Among other features, they will take strain off the upper body and transfer it to the leg muscles, similar to a hiking pack. Some hardware prevents incorrect movements, such as when lifting heavy loads. “The spectrum of applications is enormous, since physical exertion will remain a part of shipbuilding over the next 10 or 15 years. This is why Meyer Werft hat such keen interest in this project,” project manager Dr. Mario Aehnelt explained of the cooperation. There were four areas that were particularly suitable for the use of exoskeletons, such as assembling joints in a ship’s hull and installing electrical equipment under the deck. These areas in particular are where arm and back muscles, shoulders and spine are placed under great strain.
Researchers and representatives from Werft worked together in a search for models that appeared best suited for industrial use. The most suitable model was filtered out based on observations as well as employee feedback. In addition to the actual level of support, the aspect of how readily the equipment could be adapted to an individual proved critical in order to keep the time spent putting the exoskeleton on as low as possible, thereby increasing acceptance among employees. Also evaluated were weight and wear comfort.