The repetition can lead to chronic injury, as you can do the same task over and over again, as it can mean doing the same task over and over again. It's possible that a battery-powered glove could help workers by taking some strain.
The Ironhand glove strengthens the wearer's grip, so they don't have to use as much force to perform repetitive manual tasks. Its developer, Bioservo, says it can increase the wearer's hand strength by 20%.
The Swedish company describes the system as a soft exoskeleton. Exoskeletons are an external device that supports and protects the body, typically increasing strength and endurance. Most have a rigid structure, but the ironhand is soft like a regular glove.
Mikael Wester, Bioservo's marketing director, says that when you have the glove on, it gives strength and reduces the effort needed when lifting objects. It is meant to reduce fatigue and prevent strain injuries in the long run. The backpack, which holds the power pack, and artificial tendons that connect to the glove, is a part of the system. There are sensors on each fingertip that switch on the motor when a user grabs an object. A remote control or app can be used to adjust the strength and sensitivity of the grip.
Wester says applications include assembly on the production line in the automotive industry, using tools in construction and lifting heavy objects in warehouses.
The Ironhand system costs around €6,000 - $7,275 The device collects data that allows the company to assess the wearer's risk of developing strain injuries.
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work says that neck and upper limb disorders are the most common occupational disease in Europe, costing national economies up to 2% of their gross national product.
The glove was originally intended for workers in a very different setting to the factory floor. NASA developed an early version of the technology called Robo-Glove to help astronauts grasp objects and carry out work in space.
Bioservo licensed the design in 2016 and then partnered with auto manufacturer General Motors GM to develop the glove for its workers.
The field of ergonomics is to fit the jobs to the workers rather than having to adapt to the job, says Stephen Krajcarski, senior manager with GM's ergonomics team.
By using tools such as the Ironhand, we are trying to minimize any potential concerns or physical demands that may cause a medical concern for the individual operator. Krajcarski says GM has helped Bioservo to test and improve the Ironhand by piloting it in a variety of jobs at its manufacturing plants.
He says that it is not suitable for all situations and that some workers have found it easy to use.
One of the exoskeletons that GM is looking into is the Ironhand. Market research firm ABI Research says the exoskeleton market will grow from $392 million to $6.8 billion in 2030.
Krajcarski says that this is one of the tools that are out there when you look at exoskeletons.