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NEWS | April 5, 2018

PSNS & IMF hosts technology trial for human assistive technologies

By Max Maxfield, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

Managers, process improvement specialists and tradespeople got an up-close look at devices intended to ease their burdens, reduce injuries and increase productivity during an assistive technology trial Feb. 26-28 in Building 460.

The highlight of the demonstration was a mechanical arm, which can be magnetically attached to a bulkhead or other support structure and support a tool weighing up to 42 pounds.

Because the tool is supported by the mechanical arm—not by the mechanic—the weight of the tool and 25 percent of the vibration from said tool is absorbed by the mechanical arm, explained Ron Zmijewski, process improvement & research, development, test and evaluation manager with Code 350, as well as a Technology Transfer Lab manager with Code 100 Process Improvement.

Arm mounted with magnets

Officials evaluated the mechanical arm and several types of switchable magnetic bases during this event to assess how they might reduce fatigue and vibration on workers’ bodies, said Zmijewski. In an earlier test, PSNS & IMF evaluated the feasibility of mounting the mechanical arm to a cart, as well as attaching it to an immovable object in a work area using clamps. Shipyard officials hope the device will reduce injury rates related to sprains, strains and tears.

According to Pete Laketa, Lean operations division manager with Code 100PI, assistive technology like the mechanical arm is also expected to increase productivity because workers will not be forced to hold heavy tools all day or hold them in “bad ergonomic situations,” such as above their heads or in awkward positions. 

“At the end of the day, (the employee using the device) should feel better,” Zmijewski said. “These systems are not powered, other than by springs storing energy. They don’t generate energy, but rather transfer (weight and vibration) to the stationary object the arm is mounted to.”

Lessons learned

The lessons learned by PSNS & IMF should benefit other Naval Sea Systems Command activities.

“While the trials were performed at PSNS, this was a corporate event with applications that will extend to all yards. Representatives from NAVSEA 04X3 Industrial Process Innovation Division, Norfolk Naval Shipyard were in attendance, as well as many attendees from the shipyard,” explained Suzie Simms, a NAVSEA04X3 tactical implementation manager. “The idea is to implement the technology as rapidly as possible at all yards.” 

According to Zmijewski, these systems are the first practical systems for everyday shipboard application, with more improvements anticipated as they mature. More than 80 vendors from all over the world are currently developing and supplying these new and emerging technologies.

“The mechanical arm weighs only 15 pounds and can be stored and transported in a durable case to a worksite,” Zmijewski said. With the magnetic mounting brackets, it can be set up at a worksite in less than three minutes.

Evaluation for other uses

According to Simms, the magnetic systems used to mount the mechanical arm are also being evaluated for other uses. The magnets will soon be used by several shops, including the Outside Machine Shop, the Sheet Metal Shop and the Shipfitter Shop, among others.

“Magnets are being used this week on valve test work,” Simms said. “Mechanics will be able to use the magnets to hold up the plate blanks without risking hand injuries.”

The magnets can also be used to align and hold large pieces of metal together so they can be welded or fastened.

In one instance, the time it took to do plate alignment was reduced from 10 minutes to less than a minute.

“Immediate utilization of this technology will benefit the mechanic,” Simms said.