Guardian® XO® Exoskeleton Use Case: Material Handling for Assembly and Manufacturing

Guardian® XO® Exoskeleton Use Case:
Material Handling for Assembly and Manufacturing

Augmenting worker strength and improving efficiency with a full-body, powered exoskeleton

The Heavy Lifting in Your Manufacturing Facility

Much of the material handling in assembly and manufacturing comes down to lifting and placing. You can provide your employees' equipment like hoists, tugs, pushcarts, and lift-assist devices, but some manual loading, unloading, lifting, sorting, moving, and stacking is inevitable.

Team lifts with two or three people are often the quickest way to stage and manipulate heavy, bulky components for assembly. But team lifts lower your per-person productivity, and the more you rely on human labor for heavy lifting, the higher your risk of expensive, work-related injuries to the back, shoulder, or wrist. Besides, even the strongest workers are limited in the number of times per day they can lift and move massive parts.

Innovation managers, operational leads, and manufacturing engineers are continually looking for ways to speed up material handling tasks while improving worker safety. They’re trying to navigate the trade-off between the lines-per-hour quotas set to encourage workers and the lift limits set to protect them.

The Guardian XO Exoskeleton — Filling the Gap Between Manual and Assisted Lifts

What if you could combine your plant workers’ skill, judgment and instinct with a robotics solution that enables them to manipulate parts of varying weights, shapes, and sizes?

The Guardian XO full-body, powered exoskeleton is designed to boost productivity, minimize the risk of overexertion and workplace injury, and enable employees to lift and move dense or bulky objects by themselves. Engineered for lifting heavy loads, the suit utilizes robotics, sensors, and software to help workers move components of up to 200 pounds (90 kg) for manufacturing and assembly.

The exoskeleton is ideal for pieces that fall into the gap between small, easily manipulated components and heavy parts requiring mechanical assistance. It is particularly suited to low-volume, high-mix manufacturing, where automation is difficult or does not make financial sense. The exoskeleton is worn by the operator and because it is modeled after the human body, it is easy to learn and intuitive to operate. Embedded sensors allow the suit to react to the operator’s physical movements with minimal latency, enabling it to move in concert with the wearer while augmenting his/her capabilities with extraordinary strength.

The exoskeleton also offers the operator optimal maneuverability in industrial settings, with the ability to expertly handle heavy or odd-shaped objects with ease. Since the operator’s judgment and natural movements guide the suit movements, the exoskeleton fits naturally into unstructured environments right alongside other humans — without the special programming or configuration required for some fixed lift-assist equipment.

Applications in Assembly and Manufacturing

These scenarios illustrate how the full-body, powered exoskeleton can help boost productivity, mitigate worker overexertion, and reduce injury risk in materials handling. It is especially effective in small-batch, high-mix assembly, and manufacturing environments where automation may not be possible.

  • Unloading inbound boxes and crates (shipping and receiving) — Heavy, oversized parts must often be lifted out of boxes and crates or depalletized and moved to inventory staging areas or directly to workstations for use in the assembly process. Box and crate sizes are not always reliable indicators of content weight, and many shipments arrive without weight labels, leaving workers at risk of lift-related injury when unpacking them. Using the Guardian XO exoskeleton, a single worker can lift and transport parts that would otherwise require a team lift or a lift assist.
  • Manipulating parts and operating heavy tools during assembly — In areas with limited access, heavy hand tools replace automated machines for tasks like drilling and riveting. The Guardian XO exoskeleton acts as a force multiplier in hands-free mode. With the ability to lock the arms in place, it is designed to enable sustained, repetitive lifting, holding, and operation of heavy tools for workers of nearly any size and strength, even in awkward positions. The net result is a reduction in physical strain and fatigue.
  • Welding — Manual welding jobs on long surfaces require workers to intermittently stop, reposition their equipment, and resume, which can affect the integrity of the weld. Both manual and robotic welds require grinding, an exhausting task characterized by the harsh vibration of the grinder. The steadiness and precision of the Guardian XO exoskeleton allow the welder to eliminate the start-stop in long, manual welds and operate the grinder with far less physical stress.
  • Kitting industrial equipment — In small-batch, high-mix industrial manufacturing, customers tend to buy a varying combination of parts that are prepared and shipped out as kits. Workers wearing a Guardian XO exoskeleton can pick and load individual, bulky parts in the kitting process, then move the final kit to stage in a single crate or carton.

Advantages and Capabilities

  • Supplements human labor in heavy lifting, allowing the operator to move naturally with 24 degrees of freedom
  • Features hot-swappable batteries as its onboard power source for near-continuous operation
  • Enables safe lifting of up to 200 pounds (90 kg), regardless of size or strength of the operator
  • Allows manipulation of bulky, awkward components on plant floors and factories, especially where standard lift-assist equipment is impractical or hazardous
  • Reduces strain on body parts most prone to injury from vibration, repetitive motion, and heavy physical exertion, including shoulders, back, and wrists
  • Minimizes physical strain and overexertion by offloading the weight of the carried part or tool, plus the weight of the robotic suit itself

Benefits

  • Greater productivity and return on investment in human capital — It can take months or entire quarters to train a new employee for one specialized manufacturing operation and years to train for all processes at a single plant. The Guardian XO robotic suit helps boost per-worker productivity and helps companies scale their workforce in a tight labor market.
  • Injury prevention and worker safety — Laborers and freight/stock/material movers lead in the number of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) by occupation. Besides the direct costs of indemnifying workplace injuries, indirect costs include training replacement employees, accident investigation, days missed from work, productivity loss, and employee morale. The Guardian XO exoskeleton helps mitigate the risk of WMSDs by reducing the strain of continuously lifting and pushing/pulling. Where health standards call for workers to socially distance, the exoskeleton can minimize or eliminate the need for team lifts that require employees to work side by side.
  • Lower workplace risk Forklifts, cranes, and tugs introduce risk as they move around the facility. When using the Guardian XO robotic suit, the worker operates as a self-contained lift-assist instrument without interrupting the surrounding workflow.
  • Workforce equalization and worker longevity — In the face of labor shortages and the aging out of skilled workers, manufacturers have an incentive to prolong existing employees’ careers and promote a physically diverse workforce. By augmenting workers rather than replacing them, the Guardian XO exoskeleton can help extend workers’ careers. It also helps level the playing field for those who may have previously been excluded from physically demanding jobs.