Ford is introducing wearable robotic suits for assembly line workers following a successful trial in two US plants.
The upper body exoskeletal technology reduces the physical toll on employees who perform repetitive overhead tasks such as reaching up with a power tool to screw on bolts.
Some workers on the assembly line lift their arms an average of 4,600 times per day, or about 1 million times per year, increasing the possibility of fatigue or injury.
“Imagine lifting a bag of flour or a watermelon over your head up to 4,600 times a day as part of your job,” the car maker said.
Made by Ekso Bionics, the EksoVest fits workers ranging in height from 5’2″ to 6’4″. The non-powered vest elevates and supports a worker’s arms while performing overhead tasks, providing lift assistance from five pounds to 15 pounds per arm.
Ford partnered with Ekso Bionics to refine the technology based on feedback from plant operators.
According to Ekso Bionics, the vest offers protection and support against fatigue and injury by reducing the stress and strain of high-frequency, long-duration activities that can take a toll on the body over time.
Ford workers who have trialled the exoskeleton say it’s comfortable to wear because it’s lightweight and not bulky, allowing them to move their arms easily.
“I don’t want the EksoVest to ever leave,” commented Nick Gotts, an EksoVest operator at Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan. “Any job that’s overhead, I wouldn’t work without it.”
Ford is now rolling out the EksoVest for use by employees in 15 plants and seven countries around the world.