Mechanical Arm Offers Weightless Maneuverability

Mechanical Arm Offers Weightless Maneuverability

zeroG technology lets workers finish-grind engine propellers weighing up to 30 lbs., safely, efficiently, and with maximum precision.

According to Equipois Inc. v.p. of Operations Tony Wisniewski, zeroG’s “weightless” movement is based on the same springloaded arm technology technology used for the “steadi-cam” technique in motion pictures. Equipois continues to “industrialize” its product to hold tools, etc.

Equipois Inc. is enjoying the success of its zeroG line of mechanical arms. In 2009, the zeroG received the Attendee’s Choice Award at the National Ergonomic Conference and Exposition (for having the best potential to increase productivity and profitability while improving workplace health and safety); and it was selected as a finalist in Plant Engineering’s Product of the Year program, as a new device that improved worker safety while significantly adding value to the workplace. In 2010, the zeroG was presented the inaugural Patrick Soon-Shiong Innovation Award by the Los Angeles Business Journal, acknowledging the product’s ability to “continue to stretch the boundaries” and its “proven leadership in innovation.”

But, it’s not the awards that solidify the product’s reputation: it’s the experience of metalcasters and other manufacturers gaining the benefit of its material handling capability.

The device is available in two different models — zeroG4 (up to 36 lbs.) and zeroG2 (up to 10 lbs.) — and comprised of a gimbal that attaches to a wide range of tools, a mounting block that serves as a universal interface enabling many mounting options, and arm-centering technology to smooth lateral movement of the arm.

Metalcasters at Mercury Marine have deployed zeroG technology so that workers can finish-grind engine propellers weighing up to 30 lbs., safely, efficiently, and with maximum precision. By developing and implementing the program, Mercury Marine was able to bring in-house operations that had been previously outsourced, leading to considerable cost savings.

Now, Equipois has customized a solution for overhead sanding operations in aircraft maintenance and manufacturing operations. “Overhead sanding is one of the most challenging operations in the aviation industry,” according to CEO Eric Golden. “It is a costly bottleneck and a source for debilitating worker injuries. Thanks to the helpful input from our customers, we were able to develop a new best practice that will make sanding much safer and more efficient, while maintaining or even improving quality of work.”

ZeroG sanding lets workers maneuver sanders with a fraction of the effort normally required, but with complete fine motor control, resulting in increases in throughput and reduction in workplace injuries. This development has paid off for some of the top aircraft manufacturers and airlines, like Boeing and Delta. Customers have enjoyed annualized returns on investments in excess of 250%, with a payback in less than six months.

The patented technology allows tools, parts, and other payloads to be maneuvered as if weightless, but with full range of motion. So, operators achieve a level of performance unmatched with other handling technologies, such as crane-based systems, torque arms, and tool balancers. Workers are able to use their tools longer with fewer work stoppages due to fatigue; or to use heavier, more powerful tools, significantly decreasing task times and increasing throughput. Injury costs to workers decrease because operators are guiding — rather than lifting — tools, virtually eliminating the most common causes of shoulder, arm, and back injuries.

The zeroG improves quality, too: heavy tools are easy to manipulate, so workers’ fine motor skills are available for the most physically demanding tasks, which translates to greater precision, fewer mistakes, and better product quality.

Equipois claims that zeroG is adaptable to just about any manufacturing setting, retaining its small footprint. It attaches to any stable structure, and also may be ready-mounted to chairs, carts, gantries, jibs, or other fixtures. It is compatible with various work tools, including grinders, sanders, drills, rivet squeezers, nut runners, torque tools, and more.

The technique is simple to learn (less than 30 minutes of operator-training are required, according to Equipois) and intuitive to control. Its uncomplicated design means little maintenance is required; regular cleaning and occasional lubrication will keep the arm running at peak performance. And, because it is an entirely mechanical device requiring no power, the zeroG could pay for itself in energy savings alone.

Tony Wisniewski, vice president of operations at Equipois, said the company is developing more specific metalcasting applications. While the zeroG can withstand ambient temperatures of up to 140°F, to-date the devices have been used in finishing processes as well as pick-and-place tasks, like handling sand cores. The zeroG is sometimes fitted with a cover to protect the arm from particulates, but there are no specific adaptations needed for metalcasting operations. However, Wisniewski said Equipois is exploring additional uses for the industry that may be introduced within the year.

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