To raise awareness of the multifaceted applications of exoskeletons as it pertains to prevention, REHACARE 2022 will feature a larger, dedicated area in Hall 6, allowing visitors to attend exciting lectures and get a first-hand experience of exoskeletons in action. Initiator Dr. Urs Schneider from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA has partnered with the REHACARE trade fair, the IFF University of Stuttgart, the Wearable Robotics Association WEARRA and the inclusion offices LVR - The Rhineland Regional Council (Landschaftsverband Rheinland) and LWL – The Regional Association of Westphalia-Lippe (Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe). Besides prevention, the partners will also focus on rehabilitation.
Urs Schneider: "Torso and shoulder exoskeletons are currently being used in the care sector for back support and in the operating room to relieve a static forward lean of the trunk. They reduce the physical load on sensitive parts of the body that are prone to hurt and wearout from repetitive movements. In passive exoskeletons, spring-like components are used to redistribute weight from one part of the body to another part that is more resilient. For example, forces are diverted from the lumbar region to the thighs. Meanwhile, active exoskeletons also use drive systems such as motors. Other options include exoskeletons that are full body, elbow, wrist, and thumb relief systems."
Apart from prevention pertaining to physically healthy people, the trade fair also aims to enable people with disabilities to participate in the workplace with the help of exoskeletons. Because here, too, the exoskeletons can prevent physical wear-and-tear and stresses: "The purpose of industrial exoskeletons in the workplace is injury prevention, meaning primary prevention. This gives rise to the following questions. First: Can exoskeletons also be used for secondary prevention of back pain in the future? This ailment is relatively harmless, but it affects many people. The second question is: Can exoskeletons provide relief for physical disabilities in the future? Wheelchair users must always support their shoulders. Can shoulder exoskeletons make life easier for these users in the future, thanks to wheelchair-accessible installation, for example?" says Urs Schneider.
Nobody can predict when exoskeletons will become the norm rather than the exception in the workplace. One thing we know for sure is that they provide great support for users. They can increase employee satisfaction and they often benefit companies by reducing sick days. That’s why we should look forward to more developments in this area over the next few years.