Once the purview of science fiction, exoskeletons are slowly working their way into real life. These aids are now being used on manufacturing assembly lines.
Ford has started trialling an exoskeleton that supports assembly line workers to lift their arms above their heads.
While perhaps not as glamorous as suits that help people walk or lift inhuman weights, the EksoVest – which provides its wearer with 5-15lbs of lift assistance per arm – has the potential prevent injuries and improve the quality of life for workers.
Employees working on some parts of Ford’s assembly line perform tasks that involve lifting their hands over their heads – sometimes with heavy components or tools – 4,600 times a day, or about 1m times a year. These repetitive tasks, done over an extended period of time, can cause both fatigue and injury.
Ford says the device, which is unpowered and uses springs to provide support, is comfortable, not bulky and allows workers to move their arms freely. Factory workers who have used the vest have said they feel less sore at the end of their shifts and have more energy at the end of the day.
California firm Ekso Bionics designed the vest and is collaborating with Ford to test and develop the it on Ford’s factory floors. The device is being piloted in two US plants, and there are plans to test it in other regions including Europe and South America.
Russ Angold, co-founder and chief technology officer of Ekso Bionics, said: “Collaboratively working with Ford enabled us to test and refine early prototypes of the EksoVest based on insights directly from their production line workers.
“The end result is a wearable tool that reduces the strain on a worker’s body, reducing the likelihood of injury, and helping them feel better at the end of the day, increasing both productivity and morale.”
Ford, which is looking at worker ergonomics on the production lines of a number of vehicles, said investment in ergonomic technology has reduced employee injury rates.
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