Technology is helping sawmills and wood product manufacturers improve their operations and some of the latest ideas were discuss at last month’s WoodTECH 2018 conference in Rotorua.
HARD, PHYSICAL WORK AROUND sawmills and wood processing sites could be made much easier through the use of an ‘exoskeleton’ fitted outside the body.
These devices are nothing like those seen in Hollywood movies such as Alien and Avatar – rather than turning the wearer into a super-strong human, they make tough tasks easier on our joints, their US-based developer told last month’s WoodTECH 2018 conference in Rotorua.
Dr Homayoon Kaeroonia, co-founder and Chief Executive of SuitX, and his team in California, have developed a range of industrial ‘exoskeletons’ that take the hard work out of lifting, moving or undertaking repetitive tasks. Their aim is to reduce worker fatigue and assist with physically demanding roles.
SuitX, which was spun out of a research unit at Berkley University in San Francisco, has developed what it calls a Modular Agile eXoskeleton (MAX) that can be configured to assist the body for a wide range of industrial tasks. MAX’s versatility is created from a number of modules that can be combined or used independently.
It has already released three modules onto the market so far; a back-support model, a knee-support model and an armsupport model. More modules are in the pipeline to support the neck, ankles and wrists.
Each module consists of small torque generators that work with your body to push you up so your back, knee or arm muscles aren’t lifting as hard.
Dr Kaeroonia told delegates at the conference that around 500 of these modules are now being used in workplaces around the world, from car plants, to warehouses and construction sites. In one application the wearer was able to complete a task in one morning that would normally have taken a couple of days.
More importantly, wearers are likely to take fewer days off through stress or injury-related issues, and will enjoy their jobs more.
When asked the price, he told the conference that a single module sells for around US$4,000 and could be supplied to purchasers in New Zealand. At least one mill operator says they could see uses for the ‘exoskeleton’ from a health & safety point of view in their plant.
A SuitX exoskeleton back module helps make light work of lifting these wooden pallets.