Tools & Technologies

By Kira Hansen

Comau's MATE helps workers become 'superheroes'

Comau's MATE helps workers become 'superheroes'
Comau’s spring-based MATE, or Muscular Aiding Tech Exoskeleton, can ease strain on workers who perform tough manual tasks.

Many children aspire to be superheroes when they grow up and wish to have superhero powers such as invisibility, flight and super strength.

With the help of the MATE, Muscular Aiding Tech Exoskeleton, industrial workers can now feel a bit like a superhero using this innovative wearable exoskeleton. Comau, an Italian company that has spent years designing advanced industrial automation solutions, has collaborated with Iceland-based Össur, a noninvasive orthopedics company, and IUVO, a spinoff company of The BioRobotics Institute, to design this spring-based exoskeleton that adheres to the body almost as a “second skin.”

Comau has focused on creating collaborative human-machine technologies. Going along with this concept, Comau solicited the input of factory workers to design the MATE, ensuring that their specific needs and issues were addressed.

The MATE is made of a garment interface, mechanical shoulder chain and torque generator box, all of which are adjustable to fit the specific user’s body shape. For the user, the MATE is lightweight, naturally comfortable, breathable, easy to wear and provides postural support for hours of work. Its compact structure replicates and follows the movements of the upper body without any resistance and, according to its manufacturer, reduces upper body muscle activity up to 50 percent.

The MATE can especially aid in providing consistent movement for the precision of manual and repetitive tasks, which are common in the industrial sector. This means that users can perform the same tasks with less fatigue, improving the overall quality of their work. In addition, there is no need to worry about function failure of a battery or motor because the MATE is a fully passive, spring-based mechanism.

The need for exoskeletons and other human-machine automations, such as the MATE, is growing rapidly and becoming more necessary due to the aging population, the large number of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and an increasing focus on ergonomics and worker safety. On a global scale, this field grew more than 60 percent from 2015 to 2017 and is estimated to continue growing at a rate of 25 percent each year until 2020, according to Tobias Daniel, Comau’s vice president of sales and marketing, robotics and automation products. The industrial sector could represent about one-third of the exoskeleton’s applications.

Industrial engineers and ergonomists can incorporate this device into manufacturing, biomedical and consumer workplaces to improve quality and productivity while reducing workers’ fatigue and injuries. Smart and flexible factories are becoming the factories of the future, and incorporating exoskeletons, such as the MATE, will ensure companies advance their efficiencies and quality while at the same time improving their workers’ job quality, creating a happier and healthier workforce.

Kira Hansen is a product development purchasing analyst at Harley-Davidson Motor Co. and is president-elect of IISE’s Young Professionals group.