3D printed super-thumbs given to BMW workers

BMW has given staff at its Munich factory 3D-printed "super-thumbs" in order to reduce stress on their joints when at work.

Each thermoplastic polyurethane thumb protector is made individually by measuring the worker's hand with a mobile scanner.

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The covering allows the worker's thumb to move freely, but when the joint is straightened it becomes rigid, providing additional support when the thumb is pressing down.

The bespoke thumb coverings are currently only being tested in the Munich plant, in co-operation with the Department of Ergonomics at the Technical University of Munich.

The super-thumbs are an innovative addition to the assembly line that fits rubber plugs to engines.

A BMW representative said, "These have to be pressed in with the thumb. Even for people with strong hand muscles, the movement requires a certain effort."

BMW has stated that the technology is part of a wider aim to offer the "best possible support" to its entire staff.

Head of the Robbens Centre for Health Ergonomics, Prof Peter Buckle, praised the idea, but stressed that there was still much to be done to improve worker safety.

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"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."

The super–thumbs are just the latest technical innovation to utilise 3-D printing, with many predicting the technology will bring major changes to the manufacturing industry and beyond.