Phalsbourg, France — Third-party logistics provider FM Logistic has unveiled the Ergoskel, an ergoskeleton designed to help warehouse workers lift parcels while reducing physical strain on their bodies. The Ergoskel has been developed and patented by FM Logistic and the University of Technology of Compiègne (UTC), France.
According to the French healthcare insurance authority (Assurance Maladie), one out of three workplace injuries and three out of four registered musculoskeletal disorders in France are related to manual handling in the workplace.
Manual handling in warehouses involves lifting, carrying, and putting down parcels and single products throughout the day. The activity can become a potential workplace hazard when an employee is required to handle loads repeatedly or because of unfavourable working postures.
Before drafting specifications for the project, FM Logistic and the UTC used motion capture to record the movements and postures of pickers (the employees who prepare orders in warehouses). Motion sensors and accelerometers were placed on more than 20 volunteer pickers to measure the impact on their bodies. The results were complemented by images from 18 synchronized cameras.
The Ergoskel is designed to facilitate the handling of parcels weighing up to 25 kg. It is worn like a backpack with adjustments for body size and weighs 2.8 kg. The vest-like device consists of a frame with elements on the upper body, lower back, and upper thighs, as well as cables with hand clutches. The lift-assistance mechanism starts when the picker places his or her hand under the parcel. It takes less than 90 seconds to put on and adjust the Ergoskel and 30 seconds to remove it.
Eighty-five pe rcent of the testers said they were able to keep their freedom of movement. The first tests show that the Ergoskel reduces strain on the back and upper muscles by 70%.
“We believe that innovation is key to improving the health, safety, and working conditions of our warehouse employees – one third of which are pickers,” said FM Logistic’s managing director for France and Western Europe, Yannick Buisson. “The FM Logistic and UTC Ergoskel represents a milestone in our ambition to tackle the risks of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), as we hire and train about 700 people per year in France alone. I am grateful to our team members who have participated in the field experiments.”
Following lab tests at the UTC, FM Logistic is trialing 10 Ergoskel devices at five of its warehouses in France, namely Crépy-en-Valois, Longueil-Sainte-Marie, Epaux-Bézu, Arras, and Fontenay-Trésigny. A sample of 25 employees of all ages has tested the device. The next step is to further improve the device before considering a wider deployment.
“As with any new technology, employee acceptance is key. The Ergoskel offers a handy and light device to prevent musculoskeletal disorders during manual handling. We hope more employees will shortly have the opportunity to experience its benefits,” said PhD Khalil Ben Mansour, a biomechanical scientist at the Biomechanics and Bioengineering Laboratory of the University of Technology of Compiègne and the French National Centre for Scientific Research.
The Ergoskel is one of several ergonomic devices FM Logistic has introduced or tested into its operations. These include connected jackets for health monitoring by Mulliez-Flory & Altran and the VIZO, a biomechanical device that helps prevent neck pain.