Thursday, November 17, 2011

'Exoskeletons' Supports Shipyard Work

Navy shipyard workers are becoming modern day "iron men" using "exoskeletons" to maintain the nation's ships at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PSNS & IMF), Nov. 3.

Exoskeletons are mechanical supports carried like a backpack that augment a technician's ability to carry and operate heavy mechanical tools. Developed by the Army, the human universal load carrier (HULC)/Zero-G exoskeleton system operates with a balanced zero-g arm technology and titanium legs that transfer physical effort to the ground.

This mechanical assist to the arduous task of grinding has already demonstrated a significant increase in productivity, with initial data indicating grinding operations now require a third of the normally required time.

"I could have gone longer, but I ran out of weld, and the grind disc wore out," said Ransom Spurlock, a PSNS & IMF employee testing the HULC.

Nine PSNS & IMF workers used the system for grinding testing. Benefits indicate improved feathering of the grind to the surrounding base metal with less effort.

One of the testers suffers from Fibromyalgia, a disability that causes muscle and joint fatigue, and the HULC enabled him to perform the task with ease. "I would never try a task like overhead grinding again without a system like this," said Charles W. Osborne, PSNS & IMF employee.

The shipyard intends to use additional systems for drill and drain hull cuts during the next USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) maintenance availability while it continues to work with the Army to develop an industrialized version of the system.

PSNS & IMF is one of four Naval Shipyards - Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va.; Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine; and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash.- that perform logistic support and work in connection with ship construction, conversion, overhaul, repair, alternation, dry docking, outfitting, manufacturing research, redevelopment and test work.