Sean Petterson / Rochester Institute of Technology
Strong Arm Lifting Safety Garment
Strong Arm Lifting Safety Garment
This was a classic design and human factors problem solving project. The final design was well handled with a great pitch.
Strong Arm Lifting Safety Garment
The Strong Arm is a device that makes lifting packages and materials easier and safer. Designed for materials handlers, the ergonomically designed Strong Arm reduces risk and fatigue when lifting materials at a factory, delivering packages or carrying a variety of loads. The current embodiment is worn like a hiking backpack that is simple to adjust and has cables that run down to the hands. The cables attach to a universal glove that increases user grip strength. A variety of “end effectors, “are available that allow the Strong Arm to fit a variety of specialized tasks.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
$50 Billion is spent every year in America, for the compensation of injuries due to lifting. This includes strains,muscle tears, sprains and spinal injuries. That is Just in the Materials handling industry,the 8.5 million people that are lifting boxes,delivering materials and keeping the supply chain in motion. Improper technique, overloaded boxes, repetitive motion and fatigue are all causes of these debilitating injuries to the back and body. The high work pace of these workers and cost are the two reasons why nothing has yet been made available to ensure proper lifting technique by these valuable workers. There are plenty of situations where machinery can replace the workers’ manual lift,but there is no full automation in the foreseeable future. Not only is the machinery space-consuming,but it is expensive and cannot provide the packing density needs that materials handlers do in order to make operations more efficient. The NIOSH lifting equation is a recommended posture that is preached my management but rarely practiced regularly. This research started as I was walking back form the gym with my business partner as we passed masons building a stone wall on campus.These workers were hauling stones in a dangerous manner. We wanted to find a way to apply our proper technique from the gym to these workers to make their jobs easier and safer. So the criteria for the project became create a device that is cost effective, highly tactile and teaches workers how to lift correctly without sacrificing speed and efficiency.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
From past experiments with the NIOSH lifting equation,it was learned that teaching technique alone is not effective. There must be physical contact with the user. So, a garment type embodiment was chosen to begin experimenting with the idea of a postural conformance device that can be worn. Coming from a construction background, I had an understanding of what workers will use and won’t use, and making sure the workers actually use the solution is the most important thing. The second most important thing is that they use it properly. The device has to be as easy to put on as a tee shirt. The device cannot have any adjustability pieces that require extra user input. The Criteria quickly came together from user input and observation. What the workers value most is speed and effort. The NIOSH lifting equation requires the user to bend at their knees instead of at their back. This is more tiring to some workers so they don’t practice it. So if we wanted to encourage users to lift correctly we knew we had to create a device that also reduced fatigue. When creating a device that changes a user’s physical motions another design challenge arises; combating the notion of “constraint,” that a user may feel. Through design we had to convey the notion of peak performance, health and wellness. The challenge here was to make this design robust enough to withstand the rigorous work environment and maintain a design that is light weight,form fitting and flexible.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
The original concept was centered around manual laborers focused on construction and masonry. However, public interest began to reveal new jobs that Strong Arm could help. We learned 2/3 of nurses in America injure them selves from lifting heavy patients, so we made an attachment that helps lift patients. It has been used to lift patients from chairs in hospitals or just lifting loved ones at home. We were approached by an escalator mechanic who has had carpal tunnel surgery from lifting tracks. So, we developed a glove that replaces the muscles in his hands to allow him to lift with less fatigue. We have received calls from multiple industries and it has revealed the potential of the Strong Arm as a product platform to develop adaptions to custom fit for any desired task. Since the design process has begun we have gone through 16 full prototype iterations, and this iterative process includes bio-mechanical evaluation software, three week intensive human ergonomic studies, two beta site tests, numerous design critiques, four conferences, has been awarded substantial development grants, three pending patents and competition awards as well as winning the interest of numerous potential-client Fortune 500 companies. Through every iteration an end-user was consulted with a full working “prototype.” These various end users helped to shape the silhouette of a quality product. From our first test we learned that the motions involved maneuvering a 45lb water jug up stairs and through hallways, involved a skill set that had to be considered when developing the device for water couriers. Next was a local food bank where random donation boxes are packed with a variety of goods. Therefore, there is no clear way of anticipating the varying weight of packages. So we had to ensure the device could adapt to handle these varying forces. The next location was at a local grocery store distribution center. The array of packaging that comes into grocery stores not only varies in weight but shape as well. The technique for handling packages varies so the “universal grip,” was developed to adjust to any package on-the-fly. Between the freezer and the storeroom in grocery stores, there is a large temperature difference. When workers shift locations, their bodies adapt to the change in temperature and the Strong Arm had to with stand that. The Strong Arm has to maintain a lightweight fit that doesn’t affect core temperature. The “load responsive,” feature is a highly abrasive contact point on the device. For this problem, standard material specifications wouldn’t suffice. So we created a specialized test that revealed how long certain materials could last in these situations. From this new “soft tubing,” was developed. This allows the outside structure to compress when the internal structure gets tightened. This reduces not only material- on-material abrasion but it virtually eliminates all contact from the inner cable structure and the user. This makes the device more comfortable, reduces the risk of snags and increases durability.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
Strong Arm is currently the “Only device on the market that changes the dynamics of a lift,” (Dr. J Houk) Strong Arm vest has shown to reduce back strain and muscle fatigue in many workplace settings, thereby providing companies a way to mitigate on the job lifting injuries, favorably impact accident/lost time rates, increase worker productivity, and lower workman’s compensation claim costs. In today’s market, emphasis on worker retention is a priority. As the Baby Boomer generation continues to leave the workforce there is a loss of capable labor due to preventable lifting injuries that is unacceptable. The Strong Arm will not only make the workforce more efficient but has the ability to preserve it. By transferring loads to the torso, loads feel lighter and make the job less fatiguing on the user allowing them to work longer, more comfortably. The Strong Arm can affect quality of life for end users at home by avoiding debilitating back injuries but by also increasing freedom with its patient lifting application. Handicapped patients prefer a human lift over a cold painful machine lift as long as the user is confident. The Strong Arm can instill that Confidence.
Strong Arm is a versatile concept overall that has the ability to make a large impact in safety equipment and performance garment design as a whole. The concept of “load responsive,” fit is currently patent pending for the novel concept of tightening only when and where the support is needed.