Type of thesis
Occupational exoskeletons: removing barriers to their large scale adoption
Scientific disciplinary sector
Istituto di Biorobotica - BIOROBOTICS
relatore Dott.ssa CREA, SIMONA
- manufacturing industry
- service industry
- shoulder support
- workplace health
Exam session start date
Occupational Exoskeletons (OEs) can be defined as wearable assistive devices that reduce the physical load on workers performing demanding activities. In the long term, these technologies are expected to improve the working conditions of the operators and help prevent Work-related Musculo-Skeletal Disorders (WMSDs), particularly when other ergonomic interventions are not feasible. Pioneers in the adoption of OEs have been automotive manufacturers, whose plants are characterized by high-paced workstations that cannot always be fully-automated and, in some cases, require working with high levels of precision in awkward postures. Although more recently, OEs adoption has explored other areas of the manufacturing and non-manufacturing industries, the number of exoskeletons actually deployed by companies is low compared to expectations. One reason for this, is the number of unanswered questions from stakeholders involved in OEs adoption, due, first of all, to the lack of in-field evidence of effectiveness and user experience in different use cases. To address this lack of knowledge, this PhD thesis provides scientific evidence on the possible effects of using an OE (i.e., MATE) in various occupational scenarios, in terms of muscular and perceived exertion, device usability, and user acceptance. A laboratory study has been reported within the thesis, whose objective is to investigate the exoskeleton’s biomechanical effects on the users’ physical effort in simple and stereotyped tasks. Then, short-term in-field studies were conducted in different occupational scenarios: these experiments have been carried out with experienced workers during the execution of either realistically reproduced or real job activities. Finally, a longitudinal study was presented to assess the long-term side-effects on musculoskeletal health, the persistency of the device’s effectiveness over the observed period, and the feasibility of introducing the technology in the investigated employment sector. The information gathered in this thesis is intended to help stakeholders to develop their understanding and perspective on the topic and, thus, promote the large-scale knowledge-based adoption of the technology.
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