Heriot-Watt spin-out company, Kenoteq, took part in the UK’s first live trial to test the effectiveness of exoskeleton suits in a working factory environment.
Two types of exoskeleton suits are being trialled by employees of Kenoteq, as part of a wider initiative to accelerate the adoption of exoskeletons among European SMEs in construction and manufacturing. The EXSKALLERATE programme is co-funded by Interreg North Sea Region and Built Environment – Smarter Transformation (BE-ST) with support from the University of Strathclyde and National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS).
Kenoteq’s K-Briq is the world’s first low-carbon brick made from more than 90% construction waste materials, with the production process using one-tenth of the emissions of traditional fired clay bricks. Early next year, the business will open a new production facility onsite at a waste recycling facility in East Lothian, processing around twenty tonnes of commercial construction waste daily, which will then be turned into new bricks.
The Kenoteq test team are using the Herowear Apex and Auxivo Liftsuit to support general manufacturing and loading activities, as well as demonstration bricklaying, with both suits designed to protect the upper body and back from the strain associated with manual labour.
Recent statistics from the UK Health and Safety Executive showed there were 470,000 workers suffering from work-related musculoskeletal disorders in 2020/21, with the figures for the construction sector much higher than any other industry at 1,830 cases per 100,000 workers.
Paul Grant, site technician at Kenoteq has been using the passive exoskeleton suit for the last fortnight and has so far been impressed with the experience. Paul said: “The use of the suit has helped me to focus on my job while not worrying about undue strain or risks to my body. It has also made me think carefully about health and safety practise such as safe lifting and carrying heavy objects.”
Dr Sam Chapman, managing director, Kenoteq, said: “As a company which is driving forward innovation and creative thinking in the construction sector, we’re proud to be among the first to trial the new exoskeletons. The wellbeing of our staff is central to both our company values and production approach. This trial demonstrates the positive impact of this type of technology on individuals, manufacturers, and the wider industry.
“Throughout our evolution, we’ve placed partnerships and collaboration at the heart of our ethos so we’re proud to be working with forward-thinking organisations like BE-ST to trial new technologies in this key sector for Scotland.”
Combined feedback will be used to inform the exoskeleton suit manufacturers and detailed information and guidance, including results of the trials, will be made available to any SMEs considering investment in exoskeletons via a free-to-access online hub. Ecosystems Technologies and Indeglås are also conducting similar exoskeleton trials.
Alan Johnston, impact manager at BE-ST, said: “We have seen big changes in attitudes to health and safety over the last couple of decades. The widespread use of exoskeletons could be transformational for employee wellbeing and injury and pain prevention.
“Kenoteq is a forward-thinking company, born out of academic research and innovation, which makes it a great fit for the project’s first live trial. We will get incredibly valuable feedback from the test team that can be disseminated across the sector, as well as being used to further develop the suits.”
The K-Briq is currently undergoing final certification and will be in commercial production and ready to reduce carbon emissions in building and construction projects from late 2022. More information is available on Kenoteq's website.