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The use of exoskeletons in sorted waste collection

Technology safeguarding worker health

Exoskeletons are wearable robotics systems that can be utilized in industry to help workers perform their duties. Currently, various types of exoskeleton exist, depending on which part of the human body is most involved.

In general, exoskeletons offer important benefits for those using them: fewer workplace injuries, with a subsequent reduction in related costs; reduction in worker fatigue, with a subsequent increase in the level of vigilance, of productivity and of work quality.

Given A2A Group’s constant attention to worker health and safety, the decision was taken to begin experimentation aimed at identifying potential usages of exoskeletons for the purpose of improving working conditions. In particular, the project focused on the spheres of sorted waste collection and urban cleaning and hygiene. 

ATTENTION TO WORKER HEALTH

It is well known that repeated and prolonged operations involving the lifting of heavy items during waste collection can, over time, result in serious physical stress problems for workers.

WEARABLE ROBOTICS: THE FUTURE IS NOW

Although it is not yet possible to show a direct correlation, there is a plausible link between the use of exoskeletons and reduced musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in workers. 

We thus decided to assess the impact of the use of an IVO/COMAU exoskeleton in various working contexts. The first phase of experimentation focused on waste collection and urban cleaning activities, followed by evaluation of the possibility of use for workshop maintenance on the AMSA vehicle fleet.

The experimentation was carried out by alternating phases of worker training in the use of exoskeletons with phases of field testing. This was followed by analysis of data gathered by means of various types of sensor and quality tests, with the aim of defining the actual benefits obtained. 

REDUCTION IN INJURIES AND MUSCULAR STRESS

Many benefits can be obtained, in particular:

  • Reducing muscular effort and improving posture in workers
  • Safeguarding their health
  • Preventing injuries
  • Cutting times in the operational cycle

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS AND APPLICATION OF THIS TECHNOLOGY

The exoskeleton used in the experimentation was a passive model, whose functioning was, in other words, activated by springs loaded by the dynamic movement of the worker, primarily involving the upper part of the body. While it provided some measurable benefits for workers, its use is not in line with targets for applications related to waste collection and cleaning operations. Significant and measurable benefits were, however, observed for maintenance work carried out on vehicles in the workshop, the reason being that the exoskeleton makes it easier to perform overhead activities and to maintain posture for longer periods of time.

In conclusion, then, this technology makes it possible to work more safely and with fewer physical repercussions for the worker, to carry out activities more quickly and to keep the risk of workplace injury to a minimum.

Innovation projects for the Circular Economy