12 Jul, 2021 · In Press Releases
06 Jul, 2021 · In Press Releases
World’s first soft robotic muscle strengthening system. Developed in collaboration with leading Fortune 500 companies
Strain injuries, evil of the century in business? In constant progression, strain injuries, also called musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), have risen to the forefront of occupational diseases. This is the case for France, but also for Italy and Spain. According to health insurance, in 2015, MSDs accounted for more than 87% of occupational illnesses resulting in sick leave or financial compensation due to aftereffects.
The consequences of these occupational diseases are multiple: at the individual level, they result in suffering, functional disabilities and can compromise retention in employment; at the company level, they affect performance and often incur high costs. In 2016, according to a study by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, all musculoskeletal disorders in Germany represented a loss of production of 17.2 billion euros and a loss of productivity of 30.4 billion euros. That is 0.5% and 1.0% of German GDP respectively.
Companies are becoming aware of the need to strengthen the prevention of MSDs, especially in the hand, to improve the well-being of their employees, as well as to improve their attractiveness on the job market. They can be inspired by the prevention policy of the infrastructure branch of the Eiffage Group, which distinguished itself by participated in developing a robotic glove in 2017 with a Swedish biotechnology company, Bioservo.
As Erick Lemonnier, Prevention Director at Eiffage Infrastructures recalls, "The first part of the body involved in manual work is the hand. For all of our operators, the hand is absolutely essential to accomplish their daily tasks ". 40% of musculoskeletal disorders affect the hand and wrist. From the beginning of the 2010s, Eiffage Infrastructures anticipated this already major health issue at the time and investigated the prevention of MSDs. An Occupational Health plan was launched in 2011. It brings together several action and research projects aimed at the possible contributions of technology in the field of occupational risk prevention. In full emergence at this time, the heavy exoskeletons deployed in industry are quickly discarded: too bulky, energy-intensive, not manageable enough and slow. They have proven to be unsuitable for the trades and constraints of the construction industry.
Another path leads to medical prostheses. The Eiffage Infrastructures teams met the experts from Bioservo Technologies who were developing an orthosis for people who have lost motor skills in their hands. "For once, a technological innovation designed to alleviate the physical handicap will benefit able-bodied people" rejoices Erick Lemonnier. “Bioservo had a therapeutic glove to remedy a handicap in the hand. We were looking for equipment for preventive use, adapted to our business constraints, to prevent the occurrence of MSDs, and reduce if not eliminate accidental events and above all provide comfort to our operators ".
With these specifications, Bioservo Technologies developed Ironhand®, the first bionic glove designed to assist construction operators. Volunteers were testing the first iterations of the robotic glove in real situations on Eiffage Infrastructures sites. Already the first feedbacks are enthusiastic.
“Most people imagine a metallic structure inside the glove to help the user, whereas it is a fully flexible glove with artificial tendons actuated by a motor unit located in a small backpack. »Explains Erick Lemonnier.
Indeed, this flexible and light glove, only 20 grams on the scale, provides its user with motorized assistance allowing him to reduce or compensate for the physical constraints linked to handling. Sensors on the fingertips and in the palm record user pressure in real time. This data is transmitted to the servomotors which will develop a force replacing the effort that the operator should have provided. "This equipment does not interfere with the movements of the wearer. Our operators can continue to carry out their tasks, without any discomfort, but with an amplification of the strength of their hand up to 80 newtons "continues Erick Lemonnier.
Depending on the type and frequency of handling tools or objects, the Eiffage Infrastructures teams have measured a 25% to 86% reduction in risk over a working day. "As for user satisfaction, it is measured by the size XL of their smile at the end of the day" laughs Erick Lemonnier.
The Ironhand® glove can benefit all trades and activities. The ambition of its designers is to enable the entire construction sector to improve the working conditions of workers on construction sites and to prevent the risk of musculoskeletal disorders of the hand. Erick Lemonnier specifies: “We did not want this innovation to be reserved for a few large construction companies. This equipment has a dual therapeutic and preventive use. It can be used as a remedy for people already with a disability, following a professional or private life event, and thus promote the integration or return to employment of people with disabilities. As a preventive measure, it prevents people from suffering situations of disability or reduced motor skills in ten, twenty or thirty years as a result of repetitive and demanding work tasks. Finally, let us not forget the opportunities of keeping seniors in employment and a positive contribution to the feminization of our profession ". And he adds, “The point of the Ironhand® glove is to offer a new perspective on the manual trades of the construction world. Our operators realize that they can use cutting-edge technology with the sole objective of their comfort and well-being ".
Since June 2019, the Ironhand® glove has been marketed by the company Gobio - Europe Technologies, leader in the distribution of exoskeletons in France. A purchase that is not, however, within the reach of all businesses. Erick Lemonnier recalls Eiffage's ambition from the design phase of the bionic glove: "How can this equipment be made available to all French people? For all companies, whatever their size and whatever their profession, including craftsmen? ". The rental distribution channel seemed the most appropriate, with one big unknown, the existence of a rental market for robotic gloves. Loxam, leader in the rental of professional equipment, is taking up the challenge. In summer 2019, Bioservo Technologies signs an exclusive agreement in France with Loxam for the rental of its Ironhand® glove. This rental program was first launched for Eiffage Infrastructures and is now available nationwide for companies in all industry segments.
The human aspect. In terms of prevention and occupational health, the company's ambition is strong, and it is driven internally. The development of the Ironhand® glove is proof of this. Several teams participated in this innovative approach for nearly two years. That this innovation is now accessible to as many people as possible - SMEs, craftsmen, large groups such as Eiffage - is a source of great pride for the more than a hundred employees who have contributed to the success of this project.