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German car maker BMW has developed a specialist item of personal protective equipment (PPE) for its assembly plant workers. The tool is an ergonomically designed cover to protect the thumb joint being overstretched through the working day.

Referred to as a ‘finger cot’, the gear is flexible to move with the thumb. Open on the thumb’s joint and strengthened at the rear of the digit, the exertion caused by the workers' repetitive tasks is spread to prevent strain.

The thermoplastic polyurethane cover ensures thumbs are not overstretched as workers press in rubber plugs before the car parts are spray-painted.

Each cot is tailored to suit each individual worker's hand using a 3D scanner to produce an accurate image. The cots are then individually produced to provide the flexibility without losing any tensile strength.

BMW likened the process to the way in which 3D printing works, commenting:

“A digital data set is cut into individual layers of information. Based on the layer data, a plastic powder is selectively fused by a CO2 laser in a pre-heated construction chamber. This way, the plastic does not only mold into the layer presently created, but also merges with the previously formed one.”

It is not the first time that the car maker has used this kind of procedure in its factories.

The Rapid Technologies Center, part of BMW’s Munich-based Research and Innovation Center, has been producing prototypes since 1999 and is now responsible for about thousands of components each year.

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