Words: Corinne Dutil
Photos: Fraco and Mawashi Science & Technology
Last January, we were extremely excited to get to Las Vegas and show the world the Fraco Exoskeleton. This dream became a reality thanks to the collaboration between an innovative company, Mawashi Science & Technology, and a visionary entrepreneur and bricklayer, Mr. Armand Rainville, who wanted to better the lives of the men and women working in that trade.
Our original plan was to have the exoskeletons ready for spring/summer 2021. Everything was going well, and then, BOOM. PANDEMIC! In Québec, back in the spring of 2020, everything was halted. Lockdown in full force, impossible to go work, and businesses had to fight to be deemed essential. It was a very stressful time, and it left a little doubt in our minds: what is going to happen with our exoskeletons?
Mawashi Science & Technology, the manufacturer of the exoskeleton, is a Canadian leading-edge defense innovation company that develops game-changing human augmentation exoskeleton technologies. With their unique combined expertise in human factors engineering, biomimicry, new product development, multi-physics engineering, industrial design, and system integration, it wasn’t long for Mawashi to be approved as essential!
They wasted no time starting work on the exoskeleton again. Now, today, with months and months of work, we are nearing the end… You guys, it’s actually happening! Not that we ever doubted it, but when a project as innovative as this is underway, it’s easy to forget that there will be an actual end date!
As of February 2021, the final prototype is on the verge of being approved. The most exciting part is that the suit has been uniquely standardized. What we mean by that is that the Mawashi team found a way to make sure that the suit would have a unique fit for each user. A set of various sized parts has been developed to make sure that the length of the bottom part perfectly fits the mason/bricklayer, and the upper part has been designed with adjustment mechanisms to fit all sizes. The color has changed, and the system has been perfected to fit all sorts of conditions.
The next steps are as follows:
- During the next 5 months, the Mawashi team will fine-tune the design while performing in-house testing with masons wearing the suit. A lot of you have volunteered to demo it! We highly appreciate it, but since the human body is an intricate and precious machine, the Mawashi team needs their engineers and human factors specialists present during the tests to make sure everything is A-OK.
- In the summer of 2021, official production will begin.
- In September, the first 50 exoskeletons will be delivered, then another 50 in October, and 50 others in November.
- More details on distribution and training will come when production starts.
As mentioned in a previous article, the Fraco Exoskeleton for bricklayers made by Mawashi originated from exoskeletons made for soldiers.
So how does a company that makes exoskeletons for the army go about switching it up for the needs of a bricklayer? Mr. Jean-Marc Sheitoyan, Chief Strategy Officer at Mawashi, explains it like this:
“In order to adapt our tactical passive exoskeleton for the needs of the masonry industry, we started by looking at the various tasks performed by bricklayers in collaboration with the team at Fraco. This study outlined the need for an exoskeleton structure with an upper limb actuation system to support the weight of heavy bricks and masonry tools during repetitive movements. We then imagined an ergonomic low-profile and body-molded aluminum structure, comprising mechanical joints aligned with the elbow and shoulder articulations, to ensure compatibility with human biomechanics and maximize the ease and range of motion of the upper limbs.”
The exoskeleton’s quasi-passive joint locking mechanism positioned directly at the arm’s articulations, can support up to 26lbs. per arm when the arm is in a 90-degree angle and up to 15lbs. per arm when the arm is outstretched. It is very low in energy consumption and the battery can last several days for standard masonry tasks. Additionally, the exoskeleton comprises a passive lifting assistance mechanism that can lift up to 10.5 lbs. per arm.
If you are a bricklayer, you are either ready to buy yours, or you are thinking this is too good to be true … but it’s real! It is not action movie stuff! Fraco believes that this is the tool of the future for bricklayers. The weight of the suit will be around 15 pounds and once the exoskeleton has been adjusted to the right size, and the user is acclimatized to the system, it will take about 60 to 90 seconds to don or doff the suit.
Will it make you win speed contests? No. But what it will do is take off the load of the bricks that weigh down your body every day and allow you to have the same endurance at 4 PM as you do at 8 AM. It will also level the playing field for the workforce in masonry. Women who want to join the industry will be able to have more endurance, and the same thing goes for older bricklayers who have slowed down physically, because of endurance, age, or injury.
Technology can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. When combined with the skills and brains of experienced tradesmen and women, technology becomes a lever, an added tool to help the industry and the well-being of the worker. There are many different tools to help bricklayers, but this one is the only tool that can greatly reduce the impact of bricklaying on the body of the worker.
At Fraco, they believe the most important asset of any company or industry is the people, their health, and well-being. A tool like an exoskeleton can help the physical health, but also mental health. It can keep people whose bodies are forcing them to step down working. It can help with the lack of labor, by bringing more women to the industry. It improves productivity, safety, and well-being.
To follow the exoskeleton progress closely, feel free to like the Fraco LinkedIn page to get all the updates.
So, what do you think? Is this too good to be true, or are you ready to order yours?