China’s Iron Man Manufacturing Safety Initiative
Chinese manufacturers are looking to launch a range of Ironman-like suits that will enhance the capabilities of the workforce. The mech-suits, which are essentially exoskeletons, reduce potential injuries and give users extra strength so that they can shift heavier objects without straining themselves.
The mech-suits have already been in use for a considerable amount of time in China, at both the Shanghai Pudong International Airport and in the new Beijing Daxing International Airport too. Right now, the American automotive manufacturing giants, General Motors, are trialling the prototype product, created by Shanghai-based ULS Robotics. It is said that both Ford and Hyundai are also interested in the mech-suits, and are planning to bring them into their own factories in the near future.
The easiest way to describe these suits is to say that they’re reminiscent of Marvel superhero, Iron Man’s outfit ─ but without some of the enhanced techy features that result in mass-destruction or life-prolonging capabilities.
Originally, the mech-suits were developed for people with limited mobility and wheelchair users, but have now been adapted for industrial jobs that robots cannot perform, and humans are at risk performing.
“ULS Robotics founder Xu Zhenhua said businesses have been putting “emphasis on corporate social responsibility and labour protection” in a bid to avoid workplace-related injuries.
He said the suits have sensors that boost the users' efficiency, saying: “In an automated procedure, it’s easier to detect work inefficiencies and make adjustments. “It’s harder to know a worker’s status. Wearable equipment can help.”
The Range of Robotics
ULS Robotics is developing three exoskeletons that workers can wear to hold and lift heavy equipment. One is for the upper body, another goes around the waist, and the third focuses on the lower limbs. The first two weigh about seven kilogrammes each and allow a wearer to lift an additional 20 kilogrammes. They’re powered by a lithium battery that has a life of about six to eight hours.
Xu said the exoskeletons are most useful along general assembly lines, which still rely to a degree on manual labour. Just as scooters and shared bicycles have helped solve the “last mile” problem for e-commerce deliveries and commuters, so too can exoskeletons help solve “the last person” problem on a production line, he said.
“Future Capital Discovery Fund is an early investor in ULS Robotics. Founding partner Huang Mingming said the exoskeletons solve a problem not only China but the whole world is facing.
“In the past 30 years, China gained an advantage because we had many young people and a low-cost labour force,” Huang said. “However, ageing and a declining birthrate started from the early 2010s. While the auto industry is already highly automated, experienced workers are still needed for the final general assembly. That’s not replaceable.”
So no thrusters just yet, but who knows, they might be added in the future, depending on the industries that adopt these unique pieces of kit! Even without the thrusters, though, it’s safe to say that manufacturers the world over are starting to prioritise their staff, and these exoskeletons are hopefully just the first step down a road that will see workplace-orientated injuries gone for good.
Lion Electric to Construct US EV Manufacturing Facility
Who is Lion Electric?
Founded in 2008, is an innovative manufacturer of all-electric, zero-emissions, medium and heavy-duty urban vehicles. Lion Electric designs, manufactures, and assembles all components for its vehicles that have unique features specifically adapted to the users and their needs. “We believe that transitioning to all-electric vehicles will lead to major improvements in our society, environment and overall quality of life,” believes Lion Electric.
Lion Electric’s new Illinois Manufacturing Facility
Just two months after announcing plans to construct a battery manufacturing plant and innovation centre in Quebec, Lion Electric is expanding its locations further, selecting Joliet, Illinois for its new manufacturing facility in the US.
The new facility is said to “represent the largest dedicated production site for zero-emission medium and heavy-duty vehicles in the US,” as well as being the company’s biggest footprint in the market. The new facility will give Lion Electric the capacity to meet increasing demand for ‘Made in America’ zero-emission vehicles and bring production closer to customers.
It is expected that the first vehicles off the production line will be in the second half of 2022.
“Lion’s historic investment to bring its largest production facility to Illinois represents not only a win for our communities, but a strong step forward in our work to expand clean energy alternatives and the jobs they bring to our communities,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“The new Joliet facility will put Illinois at the forefront of a national movement to transition to zero-emission vehicle use, advancing our own goals of putting one million of these cars on the road by 2030. In Illinois, we know that a clean energy economy is about more than just vehicles – it’s about healthier communities and jobs for those who live there. We are excited to welcome Lion to the Land of Lincoln and look forward to their future success here.”
Lion Electric’s Agreement with the Government of Illinois
Over the next three years, Lion Electric will invest a minimum of US$70mn into Illinois. The new facility - totalling 900,000 square feet - is expected to create a minimum of 745 clean energy direct jobs in the next three years, and have an annual production capacity of up to 20,000 all electric buses and trucks.
Scaling electric bus production and decarbonising freight and transportation
As the US moves to electrifying its school buses, the additional production capacity at the facility will help Lion Electric to scale its electric bus production, as well as produce an increased volume of heavy-duty zero-emission trucks to help governments and operators in the US further the decarbonisation of freight and transportation fleets.
“Lion is the leader in electric school buses and has always been dedicated to the U.S. market, and our commitment to be close to our customers is one of the core values we have as a company. This significant expansion into the U.S. market will not only allow us to drastically increase our overall manufacturing capacity of electric trucks and buses but to also better serve our customers, while adding critical clean manufacturing jobs that will form the backbone of the green economy,” said Marc Bedard, CEO and Founder of Lion.
“I also want to acknowledge the crucial role that P33 and Intersect Illinois, civic groups committed to developing developing a long-term roadmap for the local tech industry, played in connecting Lion with the Chicago area’s business and civic community to help further commercial traction, as well as engagement with key workforce and supplier partners.”