DB Schenker revealed today it has been exploring the “connection of human and machine” via the use of bionic ‘exoskeletons’ and has “intensively and successfully tested the use of exoskeletons at several logistics locations”, as the logistics service provider continues “its efforts to relieve warehouse staff of physically-demanding tasks”.
Exoskeletons, also known as outer skeletons or support robots, are electro-mechanical support structures carried on the body, it explained, adding: “In addition to ergonomically-designed workstations, they are designed to support the warehouse employees during lifting and rotating movements of the body. In particular, this protects the lumbar vertebrae and the back muscles. The strain on these parts of the body is often the cause of illness and inability to work.”
Thomas Schulz, CHRO at Schenker AG, said: “Our employees are our most important and valuable asset. I am therefore very pleased that we are taking another important step towards testing better and, above all, healthier working conditions for our employees. This brings us closer to our strategic target of being the employer of choice as an innovative and leading logistics service provider.”
The focus of the pilot project was the order picking and sequencing of packages weighing up to 15 kilogrammes. Employees equipped with an exoskeleton removed the packages from storage racks and then placed them on pallets, with the exoskeleton supporting the movement sequences.
As part of the Graduate Summer School at the University of Dortmund, DB Schenker invited around 20 doctoral students from various faculties to Cologne. Here, they took part in the practical test for the exoskeletons at the supplier park of a renowned automobile manufacturer, the company explained.
Gerald Mueller, Head of Process and Efficiency Management at Schenker Deutschland AG, said: “The feedback from the doctoral students and DB Schenker employees after the test was very positive and once again confirmed that the long-term use, in conjunction with ergonomically optimally-designed logistics processes, can improve the health of the employees. In the coming months, we will now be analyzing the results in detail and checking whether the exoskeletons will then be included in the area of process optimization at DB Schenker.”
The company said that even in highly automated warehouses, “employees are still indispensable for many activities, such as lifting loads from their packaging. While general lifting operations are performed by machines such as forklifts or robots, lifting out is still too complex for the control technology of the machines.
“Here, an exoskeleton combines the power of the machine with the human motor competence, providing the perfect solution,” the company said.