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Humans of Manufacturing

Helping ‘Industrial Athletes’ Avoid Injuries

CEO of StrongArm Technologies Puts Workers’ Safety First & Foremost with Wearable Tech Products

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Working in a manufacturing, industrial or warehousing floor environment can mean intense physical, repetitive work for long periods of time—lifting, climbing, bending, pushing, pulling and twisting—which takes a toll on the body.

These “industrial athletes”—workers whose occupations require varying degrees of physical effort sustained over peak periods in the workday—must keep themselves in good physical condition to avoid injuries that can keep them out of work for a substantial period of time. Accidents and injuries not only affect the productivity and competitiveness of a company, it can adversely affect the health of the worker, disrupt family life and hinder earning potential.

Sean Petterson, founder and CEO of StrongArm Technologies, is on a mission to fix that. After an unfortunate industrial incident, resulting in the death of a loved one, he turned his focus to the development and delivery of smart and effective safety equipment to keep workers safe and productive. “I’ve always had an interest in making products that have an impact on humanity,” he explained. “Altruistically, I really like to provide this notion of human augmentation through design.”

While a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Petterson invented the ErgoSkeleton prototype, which helps mitigate the risk of musculoskeletal injury for industrial athletes. With access to an innovation lab and equipment on the university’s campus, the prototype came together slowly—a system of straps with parts found at local machine shops.

An entrepreneur for most of his life, Petterson started companies in several industries, including real estate, sports and product organizations. But StrongArm Technologies is his true passion.

“We’re creating an immense design challenge that incorporates everything from the varying body types to incredibly tough environments to vital information that can be pertinent to someone’s life, and doing it on a means of financial metrics to make sure it can grow within large organizations,” he explained. “The favorite part of my job is seeing the end results, seeing the reaction of the industrial athletes at the end of the day.”

The two ErgoSkeleton models feature a posture feedback system that gently reminds the body to remain in proper posture while on a user’s body based on the principles of neutral spinal kinematics. “We have a team of experts around us, everyone from ergonomists to biomechanical engineers to data scientists to bio-telemetric data scientists who are constantly refining access to the technology,” Petterson explained.

“I’ve always had an interest in making products that have an impact on humanity. Altruistically, I really like to provide this notion of human augmentation through design.”
Sean Petterson

Currently, the company is focused on generating data with its FUSE Risk Management Platform, which can be used by anyone who moves their body for a living. It measures external forces and internal forces when a person sustains a muscle or skeletal injury, as well as environmental factors that help people’s ability to perform their tasks.

That complex information is translated to the experts at StrongArm Technologies, but also to client’s operational and financial managers via link sites, enabling clients to turn data into action by making the right financial decisions to continue to invest in technology for the betterment of their people.

“By understanding what the degradation is on that person from the day before or the morning of the current shift, we can, in real time, alter workflow to optimize those activities for safety,” he explained. “We’re creating much more productive workers because we’re keeping them healthier.”

Through StrongArm Technologies, Petterson is learning more about the manufacturing process—and how important people in manufacturing careers are.

“Making the product gives you an appreciation for the process in general, as well as the timelines and what’s capable in a timeline, what’s capable in costs, where can you make things more robust, what to invest in in terms of the design to make it last in the environment you need it to last in,” Petterson explained. “But also in the value of manufacturing in the United States. The American dream really does come to fruition at the manufacturing level. We just have to bring in new ideas and new enterprises.”

That entrepreneurial spirit exists today in STEM careers such as manufacturing, he added. There’s a resurgence of general design in manufacturing, especially when working with smart technology and the Internet of Things.

“Having an understanding of that at the ground level reduces the fear a lot of people have to create something on their own, to go out there and put their talents to use to create value for the world,” Petterson said. “STEM education is that basic understanding, the stepping stones to set you on a path to an exciting world that is super dynamic, and creates a lot of value and excitement out of the hard work you put in.”

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