An exoskeleton to relieve the milker
26 July 2021

ADF Milking works with the constructor of an exoskeleton to adapt their existing  model to milking.

Imagine. It is time to milk cows and you start by equipping yourself with an exoskeleton. It looks like a  bag pack you need to adjust around the hips, arms, and shoulders. The whole exoskeleton weighs  2.3kg, and very quickly you can’t even feel it. When you raise your arms, you immediately feel the machine working to relieve you. Your muscles are no longer supporting your arms, the exoskeleton is.  The feeling is puzzling, a little bit like you can’t control your movements. 

You pick up a mop and start cleaning the breasts of a cow, and only your hands are working. Your back and shoulders are completely resting. Same thing happens when you plug-in the milking units, you  barely feel the weight of the claw. This exoskeleton was originally conceived for industrial, blue collared workers. It was used by a few breeders and notably by the experimental farm “La Blanche  Maison”. Though quite soon, it was apparent the model was not ideal for all situations. ADF Milking  started working with the constructor (Gobio, Europe Technologies) to adapt the exoskeleton to the milking process. 

A model tested on 14 different breeding farms. 

It’s for this purpose that it was tested on 14 breeding farms, enabling a few improvements “We  noticed that, for example, when the milking docks are low, and the milker tall, the mechanical  assistance started too late. We modified it accordingly.” Says François Derot, ADF Milking’s Director. Vincent Goret, breeder with 150 cows, is one of the breeders who tested this exoskeleton. He was first  amused: “It’s funny, my hand is going up by itself! I feel like I’m not carrying anything. I don’t feel  constrained at all”. He works on his cows and visibly gets used to being supported very quickly.  Sometimes the exoskeleton hits the hanging claws, but it’s not troublesome. 

When he starts milking again, this time without the exoskeleton, Vincent realises how much effort is  put into work. “I really feel the difference. I was considering investing in a milking robot, for my health,  but I may just settle on this tool”, smiles the breeder. The settings need to be adjusted to the milker,  and especially to the weight of the arms. Otherwise, the assistance may be too strong with the arms  getting up by themselves, or too weak, and the support is insufficient.  

A little scroll wheel allows you to adjust the tension of the galvanized steel cable, and to change the  assistance from 1 to 4 kg. Plus, the exoskeleton needs to be adjusted to one’s morphology. Therefore,  two models of different sizes are offered: (under 1.7m and over 1.7m). 

Furthermore, the vest can be taken off in two clicks and put back on just as quick. It also goes in the  washing machine. 

Vincent thinks the exoskeleton bring a very clear support when needing to pull the first streams and  wash the breasts. But with his 150 cows, he’s not only looking at reducing his tiredness. He also needs  to save time. In that regard, the option of a milking robot makes more sense. If he had half the  number of cows, he maybe would have chosen the exoskeleton

A price under €4.000, including training. 

Today, the model is ready. ADF Milking will start commercialization at an unannounced price, that will  be under €4.000. “We worked with the constructor, to reduce the price to a level we deemed  reasonable”, says François Derot. This amount also includes the training for the breeder. Indeed, this  type of equipment falls within the paramedical field. The supplier therefore has the obligation to make  sure the exoskeleton is perfectly adapted to the client, and that its expected benefits are not  destroyed by the disadvantages linked to misuse. ADF Milking’s technicians were thus trained to be  able to teach breeders how to put on and adjust the exoskeleton. 

Considering the benefits of this system on health, the MSA (Agricultural Social Security in France)  could assist breeders to buy exoskeletons. For now, ADF Milking offers a free demonstration for  interested breeders.  

Bag Pack. The exoskeleton looks like a bag pack weighing 2.3 kg. It needs to be adjusted at the hips,  shoulders, and arms. Its weigh is supported by the hips. Note: The head band has no link with the  exoskeleton (see page 60) 

Mechanical. The system includes two carbon blades who stretch when the breeder lowers his arms.  When he raises his arms, the blades relax, and the tension is sent back to a galvanised steel cable, who  raises the half-shell supporting the arm. 

Assistance. When the arm is raised in a horizontal position, the effort is supported by the mechanism.  The assistance starts when the hand gets to a 45° angle.

Problem Definition - Key Elements
  • Gap between optimal work space and full robotization
  • Musculoskeletal disorders are huge cost
  • Economy is growing: hard to find new skilled people
  • Transition to sustainability is important topic
  • Workers will have to work longer than before
  • Manipulators often costly and only serve limited tasks
Use in Dairy Farms - Background
  • 91% Of Sick leave in Agri business in France due to MSD
  • Leads to 8 Million LTI days
  • High direct and indirect costs
  • Highly repetitive work (every 20-25 seconds)
  • Time consuming (3 hours continuously)
  • Milking assembly: 1.5 - 3.1 kgs
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