Amey’s Forth Bridge workers trial robotic exosuit
Amey is trialling a robotic exosuit with its operatives working on the Forth Bridges in Scotland, in a bid to reduce the risks posed by manual handling work.
Transport Scotland, in partnership with Amey, has purchased an EksoVest suit to be trialled in its Forth Bridges unit, where most tasks require use of the upper body. It follows Willmott Dixon and Morrison Utility Services who have also started testing the technology among its workers.
The EksoVest, which weights 4.3kg, is an external metal frame that mirrors elements of the human skeletal structure. It is powered by a series of springs and supports workers’ arms to assist them with tasks ranging from chest height to overhead, providing between 2.2kg to 6.8kg of lift assistance per arm, making lifting objects easier.
Mark Arndt, operating company representative for the Forth Bridges Unit, said: “Integrating technology into everyday tasks to reduce the risk of on-the-job injuries to my operatives, is the driving force behind trialling the EskoVest. The motorised skeletal vest not only has the capability to physically enhance the safety of our people, but it aims to lessen fatigue which will lead to an increase in productivity and a reduction in sickness absence.
“Our operatives have been wearing the vest to carry out a range of tasks including overhead grinding and welding to repair joints in the Forth Road Bridge, installing underdeck access, installing streetlighting and laying out and removing traffic management. These tasks require our operatives to manually handle weighted objects, so by providing them with a robotic vest that supports their skeletal structure and arms, I’m hoping that we can reduce the weight that they are managing and therefore the potential for injuries.
“We are still at the early stages of this exciting trial which began at the start of April 2019 but we’re hopeful that this wearable technology will enhance the wellbeing of our staff by making their jobs easier. This complements the range of other technological improvements being rolled out at the Forth Road Bridge as part of Transport Scotland’s drive for new innovations, including high definition VR models, wearable inspection tech, real-time big data harvesting and machine learning.”
One of the employees who has trialled the EksoVest is Blair Masterton, a rigger at the Forth Road Bridge. He said: “This is definitely a good piece of kit in the right work situation. It’s easy to put on and there is a slight assist when lifting staging boards and other heavy items., It feels a bit tight and can get in the way when wearing a harness, but this trial should hopefully help to identify areas where improvements can be made.”
Kenny Horn, a welder/fabricator at the Forth Road Bridge, added: “I found the EksoVest to be helpful when grinding above head height, although I eventually did get pins and needles in my arms after using it for a prolonged period!”
If the trial is successful, other Amey businesses may look at adopting it for tasks such as waste collection and the installation of scaffolding.