ADUSA Supply Chain, the distribution and logistics arm of Ahold Delhaize USA, plans to scale up the use of wearable robotics to help grocery distribution center workers with lifting.
ADUSA said Tuesday that it has piloted “exosuits” from Cambridge, Mass.-based Verve Motion over the past year, with the technology assisting in millions of lifts of product. Based on positive feedback from wearers, the pilot will be broadened to include more than 250 suits in affiliated DCs.
Verve’s system, called SafeLift, is the first lightweight, powered soft exosuit designed for the industrial worker, according to ADUSA. During a typical workday, the suit lessens the strain on a DC selector’s back by 30% to 40%, which translates to a 22-pound item feeling like 14 pounds, a reduction that adds up over a shift, a week or a year, the company said.
“Selecting product in a distribution center is very physical work, and not only is it very physical, but it’s also critical,” ADUSA Supply Chain President Chris Lewis said in a statement. “The associates in grocery distribution centers are nothing short of superheroes who keep product flowing through the supply chain to physical and digital store shelves and, ultimately, to consumers’ tables. This has never been further demonstrated than during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re proud to pilot solutions like this one that enable us and our partners to care for the workforce in distribution centers by helping associates reduce fatigue, work more effectively and reduce the likelihood of injuries.”
Verve's exosuit reduces the strain on a DC product selector’s back by 30% to 40%.
Verve’s SafeLift technology doesn’t require any complex integration, takes less than 30 seconds to put on and automatically adapts to the user and task, ADUSA noted, adding that the suit also has ample battery life so it can be worn for an entire shift, including overtime.
Based on technology developed over the past decade at Harvard University, SafeLift combines motion tracking with robotic actuators and integrates it into a lightweight, wearable device that doesn’t restrict normal activities, according to Verve. The connected platform also allows users to analyze movement data to provide workplace safety recommendations and reporting of key worker metrics and statistics, which can be viewed on a dashboard.
The suit, made mostly of textile materials, is designed to combine the power, support and capability of robotic systems with the comfort of clothing and ergonomics of advanced sportswear, Verve said. During the pilot, wearers gave positive feedback, with a vast majority reporting reduced fatigue, soreness and better posture, ADUSA and Verve reported.
“Essential workers such as food and delivery personnel have carried us through a very challenging time,” Verve Motion CEO Ignacio Galiana stated. “At Verve, our mission is to advance worker safety and performance to allow frontline workers to effectively execute their work, while focusing on their well-being. Our partnership with the ADUSA Supply Chain network and its affiliates has enabled us to demonstrate that our product can greatly reduce strain off a selector’s back, improve lifting form and lower fatigue. We are excited to partner with companies who, like the ADUSA Supply Chain network and its partners, are as passionate about associate safety and well-being as our team. Together, we are seeing real and tangible benefits and further developing the distribution center of the future.”
The exosuit is designed to combine the power of robotic systems with the comfort of clothing and ergonomics of advanced sportswear, according to Verve.
Expanded use of Verve’s exosuit comes as Ahold Delhaize USA moves ahead with transition to self-distribution, with over 85% of its distribution network expected to be self-managed by the end of next year. Scarborough, Maine-based ADUSA Supply Chain is slated to convert five more DCs to self-management in 2022, which will raise the total number of integrated self-distribution facilities to 25. This year, plans call for two more DCs to shift procurement services to the self-distribution network and new DCs to open in Mauldin, S.C., and Manchester, Conn.
“We look forward to continuing to innovate solutions to support the workforce as we continue to transform the supply chain,” Lewis added.
The ADUSA Supply Chain family of companies includes ADUSA Supply Chain Services, ADUSA Distribution, ADUSA Transportation and ADUSA Procurement. Its network serves both the 2,028 stores and e-commerce operations of Ahold Delhaize USA’s Stop & Shop, Giant Food, Giant/Martin’s, Food Lion and Hannaford supermarket chains on the East Coast.