Wear and Care
“The technology you use impresses no one. The experience you create with it is everything.” Home Depot UX Manager Sean Gerety couldn’t be more spot-on when that statement’s read in the context of technologies on the scene right now to support the foundry’s most vital asset: its people, and more specifically, what they’re experiencing in their workday at your company.
Four recently emerged wearable devices are worthy of the industry’s collective attention, (A) for their protection of human health and well-being, (B) for their remarkable ability to physically assist foundry employees in doing their jobs better and (C) for their connected capacity to inform owners about potentially hidden risks or weak links in foundry processes.
These technologies, in a nutshell, answer the following questions:
How are our people handling the hot environment in the foundry? KOS Wearable, a device from KOSTechnology that’s worn on a worker’s wrist like a watch, monitors for things like heat stress, fatigue, dehydration, oxygenation, and blood pressure, alerting the employee (and then his or her supervisor if necessary) that it’s time to take a break, hydrate or see a doctor, before a serious health event occurs.
“Each and every person who leaves his home for work in the morning should be able to come back at night in good health,” said co-founder Melissa Glossup. “If one employee is experiencing fatigue or health-related incidents, that employee places himself and others in potential harm’s way.
“When you have the option of real-time alerting, she added, “you empower the employee to be aware of certain factors that reduce that employee’s focus and place a risk for a potential worse outcome ... Knowing when and where an employee is at risk or requires immediate help has been proven to dramatically reduce the severity of injuries and to save lives.”
Can I relieve physical duress and reduce fatigue, strain and injury? That’s what Ironhand, distributed exclusively in North America by Rhino Tool House, and MATE Exoskeleton from Comau both achieve.
Ironhand is a power assisted glove, driven by a servo motor, that instantly provides up to 80 newtons of force to the user’s hand(s).
“There’s hundreds of repetitive tasks employees are doing, whether it be gripping and setting cores, or using a grinder all day, or picking up and inspecting parts––it’s nonstop gripping and grabbing throughout their shift,” said Rhino Tool House Sales Engineer Joe Marquardt. “And they could be doing this hundreds or thousands of times. “The point of the Ironhand,” he added, “is to use less force and reduce fatigue in the hands, the arms, the elbow and even shoulders. It prevents strain injuries and reduces the number of sick days, which ultimately reduces costs for foundries.”
Meanwhile, Comau applies its mantra of HUMANUFACTURING or human-centric technology to the MATE Exoskeleton. Wearable cobiotics in action and worn on the upper body––somewhat like NFL shoulder pads (on steroids)––MATE combines the dexterity and intelligence of humans with the reproducibility, discipline and strength of a machine, according to Duilio Amico, marketing and network development director at Comau. The robotics experts at Comau endowed MATE with passive strength, Amico added, responding to feedback from factory workers who, while testing prototypes, were uncomfortable with the feeling of a wearable machine controlling their own natural motion.
Designed originally for auto manufacturing assembly-line workers but relevant for foundry employees whose arms are raised above their heads for continuous tasks, MATE works with the movement of its wearer’s arms and shoulders. In layman’s terms, it stores energy and returns it to the user, as if his arms are being held by strings and resisting gravity, says Elena Corsi, Comau product marketing manager.
“MATE externally replicates the kinematics of the bones of the human skeleton,” Corsi said. “It basically replicates the scapula and the bones responsible for shoulder articulation.”
Can we capture and reproduce the skill of our most experienced foundry people ... before they retire? Answer: Yes, with Tobii Pro 3 eye-tracking technology. Newly updated for the industrial environment as safety glasses, it’s equipped with sensors that capture exact movement of the wearer’s eyes relative to what he’s looking at in real-time––as if you’re right there doing his work with him. What this means for foundry management is the power to not only understand the best practices and pitfalls of casting’s mission-critical functions, but to record it as video and create precise training tools that would be impossible by any other means.
“It’s not just that it’s a cool new technology that can give you a metric and visualization,” said Mike Bartels, Tobii Pro director of Marketing Research and UX Segment. “It’s a way to see exactly what your employees are dealing with and come up with ways to improve those processes and make everybody safer.”
Tobii Pro conducted eye-tracking studies at H&H Casting (York, Pennsylvania) to document the exact procedures and areas of focus of their most experienced metal pourers, following their attention in every detail and parlaying the results into powerful training resources, including a video, for new hires.
The video Tobii Pro created can be watched at: bit.ly/tobii-pro-foundry.
“We often hear things like, ‘Bob is getting ready to retire and we’ve had a tough time getting him to kind of write everything down in this process and explain exactly what it is that he does,’” Bartels said.
“You know, the easiest possible way to do this is just to observe it in action through his own eyes and pass that knowledge down in such an intuitive way.”
Sources agree the effect of offering employees a wearable device is powerful as people recognize how much their company must care about them. At the end of the day, though, employers have to have sufficient rationale to justify the investment.
Co-created by a military veteran who knows how fatigue and heat stress impair alertness, strength, and the safety of self and co-workers, this is a lightweight wrist device you’d generally want to issue to each individual because of how it will accumulate data and develop a baseline and profile for each wearer. (Though it’s smart enough to adapt when someone new puts it on.) But it’s not a “gotcha” device, said Glossup, and because KOSTechnology performs the data analytics and pushes out only broad health summaries––such as, this person is healthy or they need a health check––privacy is protected. The whole premise is to alert the employee of physical duress so they don’t become ill, distracted or unsafe.
Web-based, the KOS Wearable biometrics monitor connects with a foundry’s existing communication mode, including intranet systems, cellular, and two-way radio–– it just has to be a secure network.
“We have two advantages over current available methods,” Glossup said. “We can measure, real-time, the individual worker’s reaction to heat. The second true advantage is that over time, the artificial intelligence of the device gets to know that individual’s biometrics; even a slight change in a person’s typical behavior could predict a significant event.
In other words, not only does the alert device intervene in the moment, it can plot individual reactions to heat exposure and help optimize employees’ performance, perhaps helping employers rethink how breaks are structured according to individual needs rather than by the clock.
KOS Wearable was launched first in the Canadian mining industry and becomes available in the U.S. in March 2021. Plug-and-play for the wearer and straightforward for employers to set up with initial parameters, Kos Wearable will, on average, cost about $1,000 per person. Glossup mentioned foundries may be eligible for liability insurance discounts of 10%-20%.
Conversely, the extreme but realistic cost of not providing such a safety net could be devastating.
“Loss of life in an industrial environment can produce financial loss between three and five million dollars,” Glossup said. “A small foundry may not recover from that.”
Swedish manufacturer Bioservo originally created Ironhand for stroke patients––then realized the widespread industrial need for workers worldwide. The device comprises a soft, flexible work glove with built-in finger sensors, each finger customizable for grip strength to the wearer’s preference––and the glove is attached by a strong wire to a 5.5-lb. power unit bundled and worn as a backpack or waist pack. Batteries last 10 hours and recharge in 30 minutes, and gloves are fully washable.
“In the sandblast room at one foundry, they’re pulling that trigger all day,” Marquardt at Rhino Tool House said. “I mean, it could take them four hours to clean off one form. I put the Ironhand on [one] guy and you could see his eyes light up because he was literally not holding on to the trigger anymore. The glove was pulling it for him.”
Calling it one of the most innovative tools he’s seen in his career, Marquardt said a major cool factor of Ironhand is its Iron Connect app, connecting by Bluetooth with a smart phone, that lets the user (or his/her supervisor) adjust strength settings on the fly while it’s on. Fingers can get more or less strength or even be “married” together for more comfort, depending on the task. The Ironhand glove can store 11 different configurations so a user can seamlessly move to different work throughout the day by selecting a saved setting.
And the “why” for owners?
“As soon as we demo it in their facility, employers get the ‘why’ right away by the looks on their employees’ faces,” Marquardt said. “First of all, it increases your employees’ morale; it lets them know you’re thinking of them, their health and their safety.”
Ironhand also increases production levels because people have as much energy toward the end of their shift as they did at the beginning. Marquardt adds a third benefit: employee retention––Ironhand equips new hires with confidence and prevents the sense of overwhelm and exhaustion that can set in during the early weeks of foundry employment.
Ironhand’s being demo’d in foundries across the country and is readily available in every state. Warrantied for 1 million cycles, the device costs $6,000-$7,000 on average and includes a glove, the wearable power pack and a battery. The app is free on Apple Store or Google Play.
Addressing the fatigue and pain that accompany working with arms raised, MATE aligns with the physiological movement of the shoulders, as Corsi explained.
In early testing of prototypes, Comau learned that while the technology could be connected for data gathering, workers were not receptive to the notion of being personally tracked, so for the time being, connectivity is not being emphasized. The exception is a basic “man on the ground” feature that’s in development, a simple, noninvasive alert for emergency situations.
On July 1, Comau announced MATE became the first exoskeleton on the market to receive EAWS (Ergonomic Assessment Work-Sheet) certification, meaning its effectiveness is documented for reducing the risk of biomechanical overload of the upper limbs. Based on a study of workers in Italy whose daily tasks involved flexion-extension of the arms, average ergonomic scores were reduced 30% for the shoulder in static position and 25% for dynamic movements of the shoulder, even during handling of small loads.
Corsi, who championed the certification for Comau, said this is a significant milestone for companies that want to buy the solution “because they can finally prove to their management team that they can have some return on investment.
“For the first time, it’s possible to say that by using MATE it is possible to decrease the ergonomic risk and to increase productivity,” said Corsi. “The strongest value and the mission behind the creation of MATE is very relevant and important––it was created with the aim of decreasing the occurrence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, and to improve work quality.”
MATE is easy to put on and take off, and settings can be adjusted to one of seven levels of assistance while it’s being worn. Unaffected by pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions, MATE is well stocked in the U.S, which is one of Comau’s biggest markets. It costs about $5,000 per unit, with volume discounts available.
Tobii Pro 3 Eye Tracker
Most people in the metalcasting industry are barely aware that eye-tracking technology exists, much less of its relevance for documenting the best knowledge and skills within the foundry. But with this latest industrial release, foundries can now create their own documentary of sorts, and the stars are your most experienced and talented metalcasting experts.
While the technology itself is highly complex, in practice, Tobii Pro 3 is simple. Put on the glasses and carry a small recording unit in your pocket––it’s about the size of the Walkman cassette player, said Bartels. After about 15 seconds of calibrating, the wearer becomes a walking movie camera, only even more personal, and everything (s)he actually looks at is displayed real time on a tablet or smart phone.
“The coolest thing about these glasses is they have these high-tech illuminators and cameras embedded directly into the glass that record exactly where the person is looking and plot it onto the view of the actual environment. So if somebody’s wheeling over some molten aluminum and pouring it into a mold, you’re able to see this red dot that shows exactly where their eyes are pointed. So, you’re answering the relevant questions: Are they heavily focused on the spout? Or are they looking at the mold? Do they get distracted and look up when certain things happen? Are they aware of situational clutter that they might trip over and cause an accident? These kinds of things are all captured through the set of glasses that the person is wearing.”
Ways to take advantage of the eye-tracking benefits are flexible and customizable to a foundry’s objectives and budget. In a kind of rent-the-service arrangement, Tobii Pro can come to the foundry and perform a single study over the course of a few days or a week. This could cost as little as $5,000.
Or the foundry can purchase the whole enchilada––glasses, calibration card, software. You can receive training on how to position the glasses, record employees performing tasks, collect and analyze data, and create your own studies for internal training. For multi-location foundries, studies can contrast processes among sites to establish best practices with nuance and accuracy not feasible by other means.
You can literally develop your own expertise with the system, which some of Tobii Pro’s national and international corporate clients indeed do. Depending on the extent to which a foundry may want to incorporate eye-tracking and how many facilities they’re outfitting, the investment could range from $50,000 to a couple hundred thousand dollars, said Bartels.
Tobii Pro 3 Eye Tracker is currently available, and the company’s research team has developed COVID protocols so they can safely conduct studies onsite at the foundry.
Click here to view in the September 2020 digital edition