It’s the stuff of sci-fi movies, but it is quickly becoming a reality.
Imagine having to hoist something as heavy as a watermelon over your head more than 4000 times a day.
It doesn’t bear thinking about but that is the equivalent of what some Ford production line workers are asked to do every day in the construction of vehicles.
Repetitive motions like these can of course lead to repetitive strain injury, but Ford has come to the aid of its workers with new ‘wearable technology’ called EksoVest that helps reduce this risk after a successful trial in two of its US plants.
Ford partnered with Ekso Bionics to enhance this wearable technology that elevates and supports a worker’s arms while performing overhead tasks such as reaching up with a power tool to screw bolts to secure the car’s brace – all while standing underneath the vehicle.
The exoskeleton fits workers ranging from 157cm to 193cm tall and provides lift assistance from 2 to 7kg per arm.
Ford workers say it’s comfortable because it’s lightweight and not bulky, allowing them to move their arms easily.
“I don’t want the EksoVest to ever leave,” said Nick Gotts, an original EksoVest operator at Flat Rock Assembly.
“Any job that’s overhead, I wouldn’t work without it.”
Ford piloted the EksoVest at Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne and Flat Rock assembly plants in Michigan over the past year.
The feedback from plant operators helped refine the technology before the company rolled it out globally.
“At Ekso, our mission is to augment human capability with wearable technology and robotics that help people rethink current physical limitations and achieve the remarkable,” said Jack Peurach, president and chief executive officer of Ekso Bionics.
“Advancing our collaboration with a global leader like Ford, represents a major step forward in achieving our mission as our EksoVest is deployed around the world to enhance the well-being of its work force.”
All of Ford’s North American assembly plants have EksoVests and they are being used in plants in Asia Pacific, Europe and South America as well.