BMW factory workers given 3D-printed 'super-thumbs'
Workers at a BMW plant in Germany have been given 3D-printed "super-thumbs" to reduce stress on their joints when they are assembling car parts.
Each bespoke thermoplastic polyurethane thumb protector is created individually by measuring the worker's hand in a mobile scanner.
It fits like a second skin over the worker's thumb, letting it move freely.
But it becomes rigid when straightened, allowing the thumb to press down firmly but with less strain put on the joint.Complex problem
The super-thumbs are being tested in the Munich factory, in partnership with the Department of Ergonomics at the Technical University of Munich, on the part of the line that fits rubber plugs to engines.
"These have to be pressed in with the thumb," a BMW representative said.
"Even for people with strong hand muscles, the movement requires a certain effort."
BMW said the use of the technology was part of its efforts to offer the "best possible support" to workers.
Prof Peter Buckle, head of the ergonomic research centre the Robens Institute said: "We would welcome anything that is worker-focused, but I would say that this is probably only addressing one part of a complex problem.
"There are many things that can cause stress like this, including posture and the number of times they do a task."