With people now living on average well into their eighties, and retirement age is later, the issue for many companies is how to retain and support staff as their health needs increase, particularly those specialising in manual tasks.

Leading German medical technology company Ottobock Industrials is revolutionising the capacity for manual overhead labour with an innovative wearable tech body suit, the Paexo Shoulder exoskeleton, which could provide major benefits for a vast range of different industries and professions in Australia. The upper body exoskeleton, which is now used in 500 plants and factories worldwide, has just launched in the Australian market following its initial release 18 months ago in Europe.

Retailing for $6,900, the Paexo Shoulder is now in international use across many different regions including most countries in Europe, the US, Canada, Mexico and India. The suit has already been used in a number of industries, including manufacturing sectors such as shipbuilding, automotive, rail and aerospace; as well as construction & trade, and general maintenance and repair. It also has the potential to be used in farming and agriculture; food processing; engineering and any other profession that requires raised arm movements.

How it works

The Paexo Shoulder is a passive exoskeleton that does not need an energy supply, so it can be donned within a moment’s notice without the need to power up. Workers wear the Paexo Shoulder close to their body, similar to a backpack. It provides mechanical support for individual body segments in certain postures and movements through the interplay of springs or elastic bands. This type of preventive relief could reduce the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders in the shoulder region over the long term.

The exoskeleton was designed to relieve muscular stress for workers who specifically spend long periods of time working with their arms raised. When people wearing the Paexo Shoulder raise their arms, the pads around the biceps transfer weight to the hips thanks to mechanical cable pull technology. This provides noticeable relief for the muscles and joints in the shoulder region.

It has been trialled and used with great success in the following industries:


The exoskeleton launched in Germany in 2018 after six years in development with Volkswagen Group, which wanted to extend and support the working lives of employees tasked with doing strenuous overhead vehicle work. Amongst other companies, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche have successfully trialled the exoskeleton in Europe in order to reduce all round muscle fatigue for their workers where possible. Other large-scale manufacturers in the US, like Toyota, GM or Ford, are all similarly experimenting with exoskeletons to keep their workers safer and ensure they can perform their jobs for longer.

Feedback from the testers has showed that systems such as exoskeletons significantly reduce the amount of physical effort required. Audi’s goal was to choose a device that will provide ongoing support for its production line employees. The technology is being used across the assembly line, paint shop and tool construction stations.


Workers in aircraft hangars are often required to repair parts of planes, and other associated tasks overhead. Aerospace giant Airbus, which employs more than 130,000 workers worldwide and prides itself on innovation, has been testing the Paexo Shoulder exoskeleton in its structure production, paint shops and final assemblies and feedback has been positive.

Recently, Ottobock was highlighted prominently in a presentation given by Airbus’ COO Michael Schoellhorn at the company’s annual 2019 Innovation Day held in Toulouse, France. In his presentation – The Industrial challenge at Airbus: Production System Excellence as an Enabler for Continued Success – Schoellhorn outlined how the company is looking to digitise and automate in a people-centric way in order to adapt, innovate and get the best out of their workforce.

The exoskeleton is also currently being tested at a turbine manufacturer, while Dutch airline KLM is evaluating the exoskeleton with workers donning it when required to perform cleaning tasks using very elongated cleaning rods requiring extensive arm use.


German company Thor Industries, which provides qualified staff for the household, building and supply technology sector, was one of the first companies in Europe to use the Paexo Shoulder exoskeleton. The company, which has around 1,000 employees, is known for being extremely loyal to workers and in 2012 was named one of the top 100 employers among German SMEs.

One of Thor’s prime objectives is to keep staff turnover as low as possible, in part by ensuring the highest levels of workplace health and safety. Employees were impressed by the device, saying it immediately relieved strain on their muscles on a number of tasks including overhead welding and electrical installations under ceilings.


Baltic Yachts, based in Jakobstad, Finland, is one of the leading shipyards for large custom-made yachts. The company now plans to use exoskeletons regularly in production after a successful trial run. The company, which employs around 280 workers, specialises in building high-performance carbon-fibre yachts.

A number of ergonomically challenging tasks are performed during yacht-building, such as laminating the carbon-fibres above head and shoulder height. This strenuous work puts particular strain on the muscles and joints in the arms and shoulders of employees. Baltic Yachts initially tested the Paexo Shoulder exoskeleton with six production employees. The Paexo Shoulder supported the employees in tasks such as laminating the hull and setting up the oven to harden the carbon-fibres.

Test results were extremely positive with employees feeling considerable relief with the exoskeleton during overhead and above shoulder height work. The company felt the device would improve productivity and workplace ergonomics.

Sound engineering

Recently a leading German sound engineer sourced the Paexo Shoulder for his colleague who used it on a movie shoot in Africa for a German production house. During movie shoots, the sound assistant’s job is to hold the boom – an extendable rod with a microphone at the end – as close as possible to the actor who is speaking, so as to obtain optimal recording quality without the boom and microphone showing up in the frame.

Shooting a scene like this can easily take eight minutes. The left arm has to support up to eight kilograms and the right arm has to pull up to three kilograms the entire time; unsurprisingly the assistant had complained of shoulder strain. The assistant wore the device with great success, reporting that it was quick and simple to put on and take off, the freedom of movement was virtually unrestricted, and there was no strain.

The impact of musculoskeletal disorders on productivity

In Australia musculoskeletal disorders are a common cause for inability to work and are a significant cost for companies and healthcare systems. Safe Work Australia reports 60% of all serious claims between 2009-2010 and 2013-2014 were related to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) affecting areas such as the joints, vertebrae, muscles and tendons. Some 76% of injuries relate to MSDs.

Safe Work Australia reports that musculoskeletal disorders are highly prevalent in the Australian population, affecting 6.9 million people between 2014-2015 according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. For Australia’s workforce, work-related MSDs are the leading workplace health & safety problem, both in frequency and cost, which in 2012-13 totalled more than $24bn.

Given the need for our increasingly ageing workforce to remain healthy and productive, implementation of more effective workplace risk management practices to reduce MSD risk is increasingly urgent. Whilst MSDs may result from a single event, more commonly they arise from cumulative exposure to one or more hazards over an extended period.

Many of these issues are caused by manual material-handling tasks, which include lifting, lowering, holding or carrying loads. Twisting, bending and overhead work also increase the risk of a work-related disorder, decreasing productivity.

“The Paexo Shoulder is especially lightweight – in fact, it is the lightest exoskeleton of its kind, weighing in at less than two kilograms,” said Lotte Koenig, Sales & Business Development Manager Australia for Ottobock Industrials. “As the design is based on natural human movements, users can walk, sit and also pick up objects with it. The suit can be worn comfortably for an entire shift, or parts of it, while providing noticeable relief for shoulders and arms during overhead work.

“It also comes in an adjustable one-size-fits-all model, so there’s no need to buy different sizes. This means each company has full flexibility when the exoskeleton is needed in different departments.”

Based in Duderstadt, south-west of Berlin, Ottobock has been responsible for several innovations in prosthetics, including the C-Leg, a computerised knee that adaptively varies its passive resistance to suit the patient’s different walking gaits, and the Michelangelo Hand, a fully articulated robotic hand prosthesis. Ottobock has also been a partner to the Paralympic Games since 1988.

The Ottobock Paexo product range also includes neck and wrist supports. The company will be launching a much-anticipated back support exoskeleton in 2020.