December 7, 2018 – New exoskeleton technology has made its way to Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY), and members of the workforce are now being certified for its use.
The Robotics Subcommittee (RSC), a section of the NNSY Technology and Innovation Community of Practice (T&I COP), has been researching new innovative technologies that are able to improve the health, safety, and efficiency of the shipyard worker. One of their most prominent technologies researched and tested is the Levitate Airframe exoskeleton suit, a flexible power suit or limb accessory technology that is able to reduce force on important joints in the body and make it easier for the user to be versatile and safe while lifting, lowering, or performing extensive labor.
“This technology is very promising and could make a huge impact for our workers putting in the time and energy to service the fleet on a daily basis,” said RSC Lead Edwin Guerra. “Our main focus in the T&I COP is to improve the health and safety of our waterfront workers and increase their quality of life. They are doing the day-to-day operations and straining their bodies to get the job done. But with technologies like the exoskeleton suit, we are able to certify and fit our workforce with something that can reduce the risk of injury and also be comfortable to use.”
NNSY’s Structural Department (Code 920) is one of the interested parties wanting to implement the exoskeleton suit.
“We do lead shielding and a lot of heavy plate lifting,” said Nuclear Director William Stubbs. “It’s a lot of strain on my team, so if there’s anything available that can help protect my folks, I want to use it. If it’s going to help my people be safe and help them better perform the job, then it’s worth looking into.”
Stubbs and a few of his team were able to test the exoskeleton suits to see if the technology would fit their operation.
“You can feel the suit take away the strain from the simplest tasks like lowering and lifting,” he said. “What’s more is that it’s comfortable on the user. Granted, it’s like an extension of your body, so it may take some getting used to. But it’s easy to learn and easy to use. My team has been very pleased with what they have tested so far, and I want to be able to help them in any way I can.”
With interest fueled across the shipyard, the RSC was able to purchase new exoskeleton suit technology including accessories for legs, back, and shoulders. In addition, the RSC was able to bring in safety representatives, process improvement managers, and shipyard workers to get trained and certified to use the devices across the waterfront. Initial implementation of the Levitate Airframe is set to take place aboard aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) availability.
“There’s been so much interest across the shipyard for these suits, so to finally have this technology in hand and also provide the folks with the training they need to properly operate it, we can start using this technology directly in the shops,” said Guerra. “This is a huge win for the shipyard. We saw a need to help our workers on the job, and we were able to take the steps to make changes happen. That’s what innovation is all about: bringing change for the better.”