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Formerly the domain of futuristic action flicks, wearable exoskeletons are now a present-day reality for workers on industrial job sites, thanks to the innovators at HILTI.

With productivity, workforce reductions and worker safety at the top of many Electrical Contractors’ concerns during this era of economic uncertainty, the future of job sites may lie in a sleek metallic frame that attaches to workers’ arms and torsos, giving them nearly bionic capabilities: HILTI’s EXO-O1.

The EXO-O1 wearable exoskeleton is the result of a partnership between HILTI and Ottobock, a world leader in prosthetics, orthotics and exoskeletons, and it has the potential to significantly improve safety and productivity on work sites.

As a world leader in specialized tools, services and software, HILTI is no stranger to innovation. Since its founding in 1941, the company has had a reputation for delivering products that solve real-world problems. But it’s not just innovation that drives HILTI’s evolution; the company is also deeply committed to workplace safety. With these core values, it’s no surprise that HILTI has developed a product that combines forward thinking and practicality to enhance worker health and safety.

We spoke with Ed Selz, Business Unit Manager, Diamond for HILTI North America, to learn more about this unique product: how it works, how it will benefit workers and their employers, and what it feels like to wear one.

Anatomy of an Exoskeleton

The EXO-O1 is a passive (that is, non-motorized) mechanical system that is worn like a backpack. A padded waistband supports the exoskeleton while cuffs fasten around the upper arms, just above the elbow; the whole system is connected with a series of rods and pulleys.

And all of this comes in at only 4.3 pounds.“We designed the EXO-O1 to be very easy to wear,” explains Selz. “In fact, we have designed it for all-day usage.”

 

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The suit creates resistance that helps support workers doing overhead tasks, enhancing their strength and their ability to keep their arms raised for extended periods of time — something that is a health and safety issue for many workers.

“As we looked at construction trends and the way our customers are working,” explains Selz, ”it became apparent that this exoskeleton technology that we’ve been following very closely over the past couple of years was a good product to help us solve some of those health and safety issues, particularly for overhead applications that put quite a bit of strain on the body.”

The EXO-O1 and Electrical Contracting

While the EXO-O1 has a broad application in general construction, it can be particularly useful for Electrical Contractors. “The goal here is really to provide solutions for overhead applications,” says Selz. “For the electrical community, those might include busways, cable pulls or any type of adjustment that you may be doing to an overhead system.”

The benefits of this are many. With the shortage of skilled labour in the construction industry and other industrial sectors, any tool that increases productivity is a boon. Because the EXO-O1 can reduce strain on the shoulders by up to 47 percent, not only does it enhance safety, it can potentially extend a worker’s career.

The Future of Workforce Augmentation

With breakthrough technology like the EXO-O1, the first product is often just the beginning. Does this hold true for HILTI?

“We decided on the EXO-O1 as our first step in wearable technology because it fits very nicely with the work streams that our customers currently perform,” says Selz.

“But we are always monitoring the market for additional products that we can bring in this category which we’re calling human augmentation.”

As for what those products might be, Selz isn’t giving much away: “We will have more on that in the coming months,” he says.

For now, Selz is excited about what the EXO-O1 can do for employees and workers in the construction industry and beyond. He enthuses, “This is a very exciting opportunity to really highlight a health and safety topic and enter the market with a product that we truly believe can help benefit the construction industry.”

The EXO-O1 will be available Q1 2021. For more information visit HILTI.com

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