Ford workers are testing a new exoskeleton that could help prevent injury and lower worker fatigue. They call it the EksoVest, and it’s an upper-body exoskeletal technology designed to help support workers while they perform overhead tasks.
According to the company, Ford assembly line employees perform overhead work up to 4,600 times per day, and more than 1 million times per year. The EksoVest can fit any worker from 5' to 6'4" and can provide up to 15 pounds of assistance per arm, which isn't bad when you're fastening bolts to the bottoms of cars nearly a million times in a year.
The new tool is the result of a collaboration between California-based Ekso Bionics and Ford, and early prototypes were the result of direct feedback from production line workers. Ford is piloting the project in two U.S. plants, and since they started using the vest, workers have claimed that they are not as sore and that they have more energy when they get home from the job.
Early this year, BMW Group announced that workers were using both upper-body and lower-body exoskeletons to help assist assembly workers. BMW experienced similar results, including less fatigue and a lower rate of injury.
According to Ekso Bionics, the EksoVest is commonly used by workers using drill and impact drivers, torque wrenches, and paint sprayers, or even in toolless overhead applications such as snapping fuel lines into place.
Exoskeletons are proof of how man and machine will continue to come together to make manufacturing and production facilities safer, and likely more profitable.