Ford recently released EksoVest, a new upper body exoskeletal technology that Ford factory employees can wear. The goal of EksoVest is to significantly reduce worker fatigue and injury, seeing as repetitive motions and heavy lifting are major parts of the vehicle assembly process for factory staff.
“We care about our employees and are trying to help them do their jobs with the least amount of wear and tear on their bodies possible,” said Bruce Hettle, Ford group vice president of Manufacturing and Labor Affairs.
The automaker joined forces with Ekso Bionics to create the innovative vest. The device supports a worker’s arms while they complete overhead tasks. The garment delivers lift assistance from five to 15 pounds per arm. Due to the lightweight, low-profile design of the vest, it enables freedom of movement while making workers’ jobs less strenuous.
Ekso Bionics president and chief executive officer Jack Peurach expressed pride in the product as an embodiment of the company’s objective. As he explained, Ekso Bionics exists “to augment human capability with wearable technology and robotics that help people rethink current physical limitations and achieve the remarkable.”
The Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan and the Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Michigan were the first locations to pilot the product during the past year. Plant operators and workers gave their feedback to help Ford tweak the technology before unrolling it internationally.
Ford factory employees in 15 plants around the globe currently wear the EksoVest. While the company’s incidents that resulted in lost time have dropped 75 percent since 2005, this new wearable technology promises to further reduce those rates.
Hopefully more automakers will follow in Ford’s footsteps and start implementing exoskeletal garments for their own factory workers. No matter how automated the vehicle production process becomes in the future, it’s likely that human laborers will still play a crucial role in it.
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