After a successful trial in two US plants, Ford is now offering a wearable upper-body exoskeleton to employees in 15 of its plants all across the globe. The EksoVest is designed to support workers’ arms while they perform repetitive overhead tasks.
“Building vehicles is physically a tough job,” says Bruce Hettle, Ford group vice president, Manufacturing and Labor Affairs. “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.”
The vest retains its specifications from the pilot model tested since last year, fitting workers from 5 ft to 6 ft 4 in tall (152 to 193 cm). It is unpowered and uses spring assistance to provide between 5 and 15 lb (2.2 and 6.8 kg) of lift support per arm.
The object of the exoskeleton is to reduce fatigue and injury to workers that undertake continuous repetitive tasks involving reaching up with power tools while working on the underside of cars. One of the pilot EksoVest operators, Nick Gotts, was immediately converted to the benefits of the device saying, “Any job that’s overhead, I wouldn’t work without it.”
The EksoVest is just one innovation in a growing wave of exoskeleton technology designed to augment human abilities, either improving the power of individuals or reducing the strain on people undertaking excessive manual labor. Everyone from the US Army to firefighters are working on customized exoskeletons to take the strain out of difficult occupations.