Ottobock is the world’s leading manufacturer of prosthetics and orthotics

“Not only can we imagine a way to ease the burdens of logistics workers, we have already created it.”

Ottobock is considered the world’s largest manufacturer of leg and arm prostheses and is also a leader in the research and development of many innovative orthopedic products. From microprocessor-controlled knee joints and learning-capable prosthetics to exoskeletons that ease the daily burdens of workers – Ottobock is always at the forefront of current developments. We spoke with Arne Jörn, COO of Ottobock, about artificial intelligence in prosthetics design, recognizing patterns of movement and the use of exoskeletons in logistics.

The company that is today Ottobock SE & Co. KGaA was founded in 1919 by Otto Bock in Berlin as what we would today call a start-up. Thanks to an early passion for innovation in serially produced prosthetic components, the company was able to quickly and reliably assist the many wounded soldiers returning from World War I. In the following decades, Ottobock continued to grow and always maintained a focus on research and development. Thanks to numerous innovations, the company remains at the top of its industry with just over 7,000 employees and annual revenue exceeding one billion euros. The two companies have worked together since 2017, and thanks to its extensive network, cargo-partner regularly carries out road transports for Ottobock, ensuring protection of the high-tech products with appropriate transport insurance. We took advantage of this relationship to speak with Arne Jörn, Chief Operating Officer of Ottobock, about the company and our collaboration.

Interviewer: Founded in 1919, immediately after World War I, Ottobock supplied prostheses and orthopedic products to thousands of wounded. Ottobock quickly distinguished itself with a variety of innovative approaches and continuous advancements. From microprocessor-controlled knee joints to prosthetics with embedded sensors – Ottobock has transitioned effortlessly into the “age of digitalization.” What does the future have in store for your industry?

Arne Jörn: We recently received the Christian Doppler Award for research and innovation together with Prof. Oskar Aszmann. His basic research opened the way for some of our products, such as our Myo Plus pattern recognition. As an example of artificial intelligence, the thought-controlled arm prosthesis learns various movement patterns from the users, considerably simplifying everyday life for lower arm amputees. The next generation of Myo Plus pattern recognition should even allow control of the prosthesis for upper arm amputees. This is the subject of a current research project.

Ottobock is also helping drive digital transformation in the field of technical orthopedics, especially in the direction of scan-to-print manufacturing. This eliminates the need to manually measure a stump by hand and laboriously create plaster models. Instead, a 360-degree scan is taken and sent to a 3D printer. Users quickly receive a perfectly fitting shaft as the connection between stump and prosthesis. The result is greater comfort for the users and higher quality.

In general, change is driven by the needs of our customers and users as well as the technology. Thanks to the ingenious interaction of sensors and microprocessors, our innovative products and technologies offer users new freedom of movement and prevent subsequent problems. We will further improve human mobility and continue researching technologies like artificial intelligence, human-machine interfaces and human wearable bionics. Feedback from the prostheses to the users and learning systems will improve users’ quality of life enormously, for example.

Great interest has been shown lately in your exoskeleton for its use in manufacturing, such as on automotive assembly lines. What is the principle behind this “enhancement”? Can you imagine that similar technological aids in the area of logistics will make the work of warehouse employees – lifting heavy loads, inventory scanners, etc. – safer and easier?

Not only can we imagine such a way to ease the burdens of logistics workers, we have already created it, and we brought it onto the market in August. The Paexo Back supports safer lifting of heavy loads without restricting freedom of movement – an aspect that was very important to us.
The exoskeleton functions according to a biomechanical principle: Like a backpack, it takes the load off the shoulders and transfers it to the thighs by means of the exoskeleton’s support structure. Energy is stored during bending and released again during lifting, resulting in a noticeable reduction in the weight on the lower back by up to 25 kilograms. Such values are otherwise achieved only with battery-powered systems, but these are much heavier and more complex to operate. The Paexo Back weighs about four kilograms. It can be put on or taken off in 20 seconds and can be optimally adjusted for the wearer at a number of points.
The heart of the system is the purely mechanical control mechanism at hip height – the first of its kind in the world. It can differentiate between bending and walking and turns itself off automatically during walking to allow for full freedom of movement. The supporting force can be smoothly adjusted to the loads of different work steps with a dial. An innovative solution for relieving people performing physically strenuous activities and for creating healthier working conditions.
Ottobock Industrials now offers a wide range of passive exoskeletons and ergonomic solutions such as the Paexo Shoulder and Paexo Neck for support during overhead work and the Paexo Thumb and Paexo Wrist to relieve hand joints.

 “The feedback from our logistics experts is extremely satisfactory – regarding cargo-partner’s flexibility and response time as well as your ability and willingness to carry out special transports” 

Arne Jörn, COO at Ottobock, highlights the collaboration with cargo-partner

 

Ottobock is a leader in its field, with an outstanding global reputation. And cargo-partner is known as a medium-sized logistics enterprise with global coverage. How does collaboration with cargo-partner differ from the “big players” in the transport industry?

The feedback from our logistics experts is extremely satisfactory – regarding cargo-partner’s flexibility and response time as well as your ability and willingness to carry out special transports. Exceptional situations, such as a possible overloading of the vehicles due to the load capacity, are resolved quickly and efficiently and in our best interest. Individual adjustments to the transport route are also quickly realized. For instance, delays due to border controls and closures resulting from the COVID-19 situation were resolved without extra cost to us as customer.
 

What expectations does your company have of its transport partners, and what values make for good collaboration? How important are competent packaging of the goods and appropriate transport insurance for your high quality and expensive products?

The general expectation of a transport partner is clear: delivering the right goods at the desired location in the correct quantity, at the agreed time and with proper quality. Good cooperation is ensured when this process runs smoothly, the orders are carried out correctly and there is a good flow of information.

We rely on your expertise and expect our logistics partner to continuously optimize processes and goods flows and use resources in sustainable and environmental ways – such as by reducing pollutant and CO2 emissions and operating a modern and well-maintained fleet.

Transport packaging, the securing of loads and transport insurance are all tremendously important to us as a maker of medical devices since our products are relatively small and light. In addition to high economic value, they are of enormous emotional significance to the users due to the improved quality of life.

 

Tracking and transparency along the entire supply chain are of critical importance in transport and logistics. What does Ottobock expect from its transport and logistics partner in this respect?

Tracking along the transport route is important to us because the regular transport route from Vienna to our distribution center in Duderstadt (Lower Saxony, Germany) crosses national borders. The destination must be alerted to unavoidable delays as early as possible so they can make plans.

Thank you for the interview!