Sometimes you have to take a step backward to take a step forward. In that vein, Lockheed Martin has created a simplified version of its Fortis industrial exoskeleton by turning its key weight-bearing component into a separate standalone product. The unpowered articulated frame called the Fortis Tool Arm allows workers to use heavy tools weighing up to 50 lb (23 kg) at awkward angles for long periods without fatigue.

One misconception of the 21st century is that manual labor is largely a thing of the past, but many jobs still require the handling heavy equipment through a long day – often at heights and angles that would be exhausting even if the tool was made out of gossamer and moonbeams. To help take a load off, Lockheed came up with its Fortis system, which is an unpowered, articulate, mobile exoskeleton designed to lighten the load of heavy power tools and redirect their weight down to the ground instead of through the worker's body.

The idea was originally developed for the US armed forces as a way to help soldiers carry heavy loads long distances in the field, and was later adapted for use in factories and aboard US Navy ships. Now Lockheed's Fortis Tool Arm takes that same technology and converts it into a static version that is set up at a workstation as a simpler, less expensive aid.

While the Fortis Tool Arm isn't mobile like the exoskeleton it's derived from, it's still worn around the waist and makes power tools seem weightless, while also reducing vibration and torque kick. Lockheed says users of the device report two-thirds less fatigue, higher productivity, improved quality of work and fewer musculoskeletal injuries as a result.

"In some cases, you want to support heavy tool loads like the Fortis exoskeleton does, but don't need much mobility," says Glenn Kuller, Advanced and Special Programs vice president at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. "Examples are when workers need to use tools on elevated platforms, at benches or with service vehicles. The tool arm transfers weight through these structures and provides the well-known safety and productivity benefits of Fortis."