Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, at their facility in Okpo-dong have been developing for their workers wearable robotics which enable them to heft large hunks of metal, pipes and other objects as if they were nothing. The implications for production are immense.
RoboShipbuilder (Image: Daewoo)
The lead engineer for the firm's research team, says the pilot showed that the exoskeleton does help workers perform their tasks. His team is working to improve the prototypes so that they can go into regular use in the shipyard, where robots already run a large portion of a hugely complex assembly system, at one shipyard, robots did 68 per cent of all welding as well as carrying out jobs from cutting and grinding steel to polishing freshly assembled hulls, with minimal human oversight.
The suit weighs 28 kilos and is made of carbon, aluminium alloy and steel although the person wearing the suit feel completely unencumbered. Frames designed for individual tasks can be attached to the backpack, with some arcing over a person's head like a small crane. As well as boosting raw lifting ability, the suit helps workers manipulate heavy components precisely: it takes most of the weight, so the user is effectively handling light objects.
Worker feedback from the trial has been mostly positive. Testers were pleased that the exoskeleton let them lift heavy objects repeatedly without strain, but everyone also wanted it to move faster and be able to cope with heavier loads.
As the industry grows, so too will the need for automation, including robotic suits of the kind Daewoo is experimenting with. The prototypes still have several important kinks to be worked out, though. In tests, workers had a hard time negotiating sloping or slippery surfaces. And the prototypes cannot yet cope with twisting motions, so workers making turns while carrying heavy objects could tire out easily.
The Source article appeared in print under the headline "Lifting big" and can be found online at: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329803.900-robotic-suit-gives-shipyard-workers-super-strength.html#%2EVAY_NvldUdQ