From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

New Invention Delivers Benefits of Virtual Weightlessness to Workplace

A new device on the market is designed to help employees maneuver tools, parts or equipment more efficiently and with less risk of injury. The zeroG™ arm by California company Equipois makes these objects virtually weightless for the operator, who is able to move them about with full range of motion. The very 21st Century zeroG™ arm is as noteworthy for its long lineage as for its potential in the workplace.

One mechanism in the proprietary technology – the gimbal, which allows tools to rotate freely – has existed for centuries in primitive forms. The zeroG™ arm also owes more than a nod to the 1980s invention that revolutionized the film and television industry – the Steadicam. Garrett Brown, famed for inventing the Steadicam, invented the zeroG™ arm. Between these two inventions, he has amassed 50 patents worldwide for camera devices, including the Skycam, which flies on wires over sporting events. His Divecam, featured prominently in the recent Olympic games, won him an Emmy Award.

The springs spaced along the multi-jointed zeroG™ arm also have a venerable antecedent: the bow and arrow is a primitive spring.
Equipois CEO Eric Golden describes the invention, which supports a range of manufacturing, heavy industrial, bioresearch and medical applications, as revolutionary. It has the capacity to change the way manufacturing is done, he explained in an interview on September 9 with Ergonomics Today™, as it is the first and only product that takes gravity out of the equation. At the same time, he added, it lets workers use all the skills and experience and knowledge that they have accumulated, so they don’t have to learn anything new. "They just have the ability to work in a manner that is safer and more effective from the first time they pick up the zeroG™ arm."

Golden describes it as the only device of its type that achieves true zero gravity with total range of motion. "With other alternatives, the workers either have to learn something new to operate a mechanical device, or they are greatly restricted in their range of motion."

The conventional tool balancer suspends tools in easy reach and is valuable for that, he said, but there is some resistance if they are taken out of their original position. "That resistance increases with the range of motion." With the zeroG™ arm "you literally can move the full distance of your arm and feel [as if] a 10 or 20 pound tool weighs virtually nothing."

The torque arm also has limitations, according to Golden. He regards the tool as helpful in isolating torque and in positioning tools, but says it doesn’t provide the degrees of freedom of the zeroG™ arm. "Workers need a support device to provide the same degrees of freedom as their normal work patterns in order to be effective."

During the pilot programs for the zeroG™ arm, Equipois concentrated on learning about customers’ workflow to ensure the zeroG™ technology could be incorporated effortlessly. "You don’t want a product that will slow your customer down one bit," Golden explained.  Equipois’ pilot projects included top companies in aerospace, marine manufacturing, and other industries.

The technology cut task time for one customer, an aerospace company, by 60 percent, according to Golden. "If you look at that gain, the return on investment (ROI) in that situation is just astronomical." The company has a grinding operation that poses ergonomic risk because the worker has to work with arms outstretched, grinding for hours at a time. In a test with the zeroG™ arm, Golden said, much less exertion was required and time was saved because a heavier tool than usual could be used for the task.

The market generally decides the value of a new product, and the zeroG™ arm is unlikely to be an exception. Its success will depend on the ROI, which, in turn, will rest on ergonomics factors. These include how well the invention reduces injury risk factors by eliminating or reducing forces and muscle fatigue; its potential for enhancing precision; and its success at reducing task time and cost

Source: Eric Golden