BMW is now using 3D printers to create ergonomic gloves for its assembly staff in a bid to ease the strain placed on their thumbs during the average working day.
As part of what BMW is calling ‘industry 4.0’, the 3D printer is based in-house in its German factories. The gloves are produced to the specifications of each and every assembly line employee, BMW said.
The project has been undertaken with the co-operation of the Department of Ergonomics at the Technical University of Munich, which has also undertaken a dissertation with the goal of discovering how the gloves improve the productivity of the employees and, of course, the health benefits to BMW staff.
The job the gloves are aimed at in particular is the insertion of rubber plugs into the base of the car, which requires the assembly worker to press his or her thumb hard against the plug to force it in place, which puts continuous strain on the thumb.
The gloves are made from thermoplastic polyurethane. When pressed against the rubber plug, the material will react by forming a stable splint when the thumb is extended to press, thereby removing a lot of the pressure on the joint.
This is not the first time BMW has used 3D printing. In 2012, the company produced customised wheelchair seats for the British basketball team competing in the Paralympics. Compared to conventionally made seats, the innovative seats were lighter and also an ideal fit for the athletes, which was a major advantage for the players.