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Comau’s exoskeleton producing ‘significant, measurable benefits’ at Pintarelli

Comau’s wearable exoskeleton with its news model, the MATE-XT, aims to satisfy the special needs of those working in harsh conditions in industry, other sectors and even outdoors.

Comau’s MATE exoskeleton is the first and still the only exoskeleton in the world to be EAWS (Ergonomic Assessment Work-Sheet) certified. This confirms its effectiveness in reducing the risk of biomechanical upper limb strain in workers whose daily activities involve repetitive flexion and extension of the arms.

MATE has become an indispensable aid for some of the operators at Pintarelli, who perform repetitive manual movements involving continuous use of the upper limbs and shoulders. Pintarelli Verniciature is based in Lavis in the province of Trento and employs around 30 people.

The company provides oven-cured powder coating services for small and large industrial products made from iron, steel, galvanised steel and aluminium.

The present plant has been thoroughly renovated and new drying and curing ovens installed along with a new nine-stage pre-treatment tunnel and, for the first time in Italy, a dense phase coating system that improves coverage and delivers better quality results.

Though the company’s client portfolio is mainly Italian, Pintarelli also serves customers in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the United States. The company’s coated metal parts are used in the automotive, machine tool, refrigeration, lift and building sectors, and wherever metal parts in iron, steel, aluminium and galvanised steel are needed.

Given the large number of different products it handles, the company is unable to automate its processes and therefore demands a great deal of physical effort from operators.

Pintarelli operates a single continuous coating system based on electrostatic powder coating and oven curing. Its activity is unique for a great mix of products, different size lots, and parts of completely different shape, size and material.

Jobs range from lots of small parts that can be finished in a few minutes to pieces of 7 metres in length by 2.5 metres in height that require a number of coating passes.

Mr Ferrero, plant manager, says: “A production scenario like this not only requires a highly flexible organisation but also makes it very difficult to introduce automation systems.

“The heavier parts have to be moved by gantries, but the majority of parts weighing between 7 and 20 kg are moved manually by the operator who must also apply the coating while holding the spray gun. After extensive market research we chose this Comau solution mainly because it seemed so simple in its design and functioning.

“It’s an all-mechanical exoskeleton with no electrical or electronic parts, that exploits the properties of elastic systems and is easy to wear. These were winning features for us.”

The MATE (Muscular Aiding Tech Exoskeleton) was designed to prevent or reduce the muscular and joint pathologies associated with manual labour, and especially with the muscle movements of the arms and shoulders.

It replicates the physiological movements of the operator and provides excellent postural support without the need for batteries, motors or other devices at risk of failure.

In fact, MATE is a purely passive device based on actuation systems (pre-tensioned springs) that support arm lifting in proportion to the angle of the arm to the body, through an interval of 20° to 120°, with maximum force applied at 90°.

MATE offers 8 different levels of assistance that the operator can adjust on the basis of the effort needed, without having to stop work.

Though there is yet no long-term scientific evidence of any effective reduction in the frequency of muscular and joint pathologies, short-term scientific evidence is clear that shoulder muscle fatigue is reduced by around 30 percent on average.

These figures, taken from research using high precision electromyography, are confirmed in the field by operators who report a perceived reduction in effort of over 25 percent.

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