Review: Hilti’s EXO-S Shoulder Exoskeleton for Construction Workers

Updated Aug 23, 2023

In this episode of The Dirt, host Bryan Furnace tries out Hilti’s new EXO-S Shoulder Exoskeleton, designed to ease the load on workers operating tools overhead.

Hilti first introduced the EXO-1 exoskeleton product in 2021 for construction workers in a partnership with Ottobock, a prosthetics, orthotics and exoskeleton manufacturer. It’s new product, the EXO-S, is designed to reduce the strain on neck and shoulders when working with your arms above shoulder level. Strain normally felt in the shoulders and neck is transferred to the hips, according to Hilti.

Hilti dispels the notion that the device will give you more strength. It is a “passive exoskeleton” with no battery power or other outside powered assistance. It’s a wearable brace with a backpack design for keeping your body in alignment.

Hilti cites the following uses for the EXO-S:

  • Continuous or repetitive overhead tasks, with or without using tools.
  • Installing drywall – fastening track to ceilings and walls, taping, hanging and screwing board.
  • Surface grinding and sanding – finishing on walls/ceilings.
  • Overhead installation – piping, sprinklers, air ducts, conduits, cable trays and channels.

Comment from Hilti: The EXO-S Shoulder exoskeleton is a passive exoskeleton. It is designed to relieve the strain on the arms and pectoral girdle during overhead and over-shoulder work. Assistance is correct when gravity is enough to make your arms drop, without further exertion on your part. Do not attempt to set assistance to a value higher than this; any lower setting is possible, in accordance with your preference.

To see what it’s like wearing the EXO-S and to get Bryan’s take on the device, check out the latest episode of The Dirt.

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In This Episode:

00:00 - Hilti EXO-S Exoskeleton Review

00:50 - Putting It On

02:25 - How It Works

04:39 - How Well Does It Support Weight?

06:47 - How Can Dirt Contractors Use This?

07:04 - Final Verdict


Bryan Furnace (00:00):

Today we're doing something very different, we're reviewing this bad boy. This is the Hilti EXO-S Exoskeleton, and we are going to put this thing through its paces and let you know what I think.


So this is it. From the front, it doesn't look like much, but when you spin around, you can see the Hilti EXO-S in all of its glory. And I will say, this has not been that impressive. And I'm sorry to say that because I'm a huge fan of Hilti products. When I was told that I was getting to review this setup, I was very, very excited to take it on. But let's get into just my overall how this progressed. So, putting this thing on, for the first time especially, is actually quite an ordeal. There are adjustments everywhere, and you actually have to take the time to adjust them appropriately so that the harness transfers the load of your arms, down to your torso and your body, so that it actually helps you and benefits you.


But you've got adjustments here on the waistband. You've got adjustments on the chest strap. You've got adjustments on the vertical pieces of the chest strap. You have adjustments on the length of the arm cuffs. You have adjustments on the width of the arm cuffs. You have an adjustment on the tension, which by the way, as you can see, it's really hard to reach while you're wearing the suit, which means I now have to take all of this stuff off if I want to make any adjustments to the tension of the system. You can already see that this thing's kind of a hassle to get into. But it's okay, that's my first time, I accept that it's going to take some adjustability and it's going to take some time to get this thing tuned into my body. Now, if you think about it from a contractor standpoint, that's a little bit of an irritation, because what if my buddy Larry over here wants to use the EXO suit for 20 minutes?


Well, sorry, Larry, but you got to strip this thing off of me... Which it's covered in sweat, by the way, because this thing is hot, believe it or not. You've got these straps around here, you've got the bars running up your back, the bicep cuffs... This thing gets pretty hot, especially when you're not in an air-conditioned building. But all that to say, Larry's going to have to take it, spend seven-ish minutes getting it all tuned into Larry's body so that he can go throw up some light bulbs or go drill a hole in a wall, and then he is going to give it back to you and now I have to spend the seven minutes retuning it all back to me and everything. The way the system actually works is you have a series of springs in here, they're connected with a wire over a cam like you would find in a compound bow.


And so, I'm fighting right now, this whole interview I've been fighting with my triceps to keep my arms down so that I'm not hitting everybody in the face. And it's not a ton of effort, but at the same time, over the course of a full day, if you're wanting to use your arms at your side, you are going to have a little fatigue in muscles that you're not used to having fatigue in, because I'm having to fight to keep my arms at my side. Again, it's not a ton, but still, it's enough. Now, if I want to do work in this area, I'm still having to fight the EXO suit, because what the EXO suit really wants you to do is praise Jesus, all the time, all day long. This is where the EXO suit wants to be. And to be honest, this is me with no effort into holding my arms up, the EXO suit is taking all of that weight.


And so you can see this is helpful for when we're doing overhead tasks, I'm not having to engage my triceps and everything to keep my arms up, but the second we come down to here, we're right at that rotation point on that cam, and I'm having to actually fight the suit a fair amount. And if you're doing delicate piece work, like finish out electrical, which is one of the things I was doing while trying this out, it's kind of hard to do that without the suit making your elbows pop out and stuff. If you're doing any sort of trim work, where you need to be really detailed, you're going to be fighting the suit. And so that's where this thing, in my mind, falls on its face.


If I'm going to go spend $1,400, which is where the EXO suit comes in at, if I'm going to go spend that kind of money on a device, it needs to work in all of this range up here to be truly functional for me, in my opinion. But this only works when you're in full upright, praise Jesus mode. If I was running a Hilti drill and we were drilling wall anchors and they all just happened to be at full reach extension, great, that's awesome. But the problem is I'm not spending the entire day all the way at full arm extension. I'm spending a lot of my day somewhere in between, and I'm always fighting the EXO suit.


Now, when it comes to the actual support of things, like I just demonstrated, takes your arm support and it does that great, you no longer have to worry about supporting your arms. But now, if I'm going to load myself up with a 30 pound Hilti drill and I'm hammering wall anchors into a concrete wall all day, it still doesn't have enough oomph in the EXO suit that it's going to support that Hilti or something really heavy. Now my arms are reengaging. Now mind you, you've taken a lot of the weight off of actually holding your arms, but again, if I'm going to pay $1,400 for a support system, I would expect that to take more of the weight and create a lot less fatigue.


And by the way, I do have these dialed all the way up, so I'm getting the full support at reach, and it's still not going to be enough that it's going to take all of the weight of a Hilti for me. And to bring this back to the dirt world, because again, I'm not a building trade guy and we don't have a lot of building trade guys that watch this channel. So I started to try to think of ways that we might be able to use it in the dirt industry, and one of the first things I thought about was a mechanic. If you're a shop mechanic and you've got access to a lift, this could actually work pretty well for you.


I really hate to be so rough on Hilti, and I will encourage you guys check out Hilti's line of products, they do have some real bangers in their inventory, but unfortunately the Hilti EXO-S is just not one of them. So thanks for watching, as always, we'll catch you on the next episode of The Dirt.