Exosuits give industry workers a taste of superhero strength

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

We live in a world where gadgets and technology make our lives easier daily and with wearable technology comes the added promise of increased worker safety and productivity.

Wearable technology is defined as any accessory or piece of clothing incorporating electronic and computer technology. As the industry gets more familiar with technology, digital solutions are being used in all areas of the industry, we’re moving away from paper trails and manual building and towards online solutions, new technology, apps and robots that can do the job for us. Some fear robots will take over and the need for humans in the industry will dwindle, but I think we need to fear technology less and accept it’s going to improve our working life, making once difficult jobs much easier to complete.

Construction workers could soon have a taste of a superhero’s strength, thanks to a robotic vest that is designed to prevent injuries on building sites. Willmott Dixon are the first in the UK to trial the EksoVest, an upper body exoskeleton vest that supports a worker’s arms during heavy lifting using various adjustable springs that transfer the weight of a load. The EksoVest is a spring-loaded exoskeleton for the upper body that makes heavy items feel weightless during lifting, by taking the strain that traditionally would hit the shoulders hard. The power suit will allow workers to spend long days lifting materials and holding tools at awkward angles without the physical stresses usually associated with such tasks. It should lead to teams on site feeling less exerted and improve wellbeing and productivity. For many companies it will overcome the problem of workers’ bodies being gradually broken down over a 20-25-year period, which can result in early retirement or the need to move into other job roles to avoid further injuries or surgery.

The vest costs approximately £5,650, which is a lot of money. However, there are currently more than 100,000 injuries on site each year, which, on top of being painful or life threatening, costs the industry thousands of pounds each year. If the EksoVest can cut a fraction of that, it will be worthwhile in my opinion.

Working on a construction site can easily take its toll on the human body. Tasks can be strenuous, repetitive, high-impact and it shows. Productivity, and workers’ wellbeing and longevity are affected. Wearable technology is now there to lend a helping hand – literally. By the end of this year, a full-body robotically-powered suit is also in the works with Ekso. The kit would allow workers to lift significant weights as they freely move around site without the need for specialist vehicles – Tony Stark, eat your heart out.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.