Ford employees are testing an exoskeleton that relieves the pain from assembly plant worker’s shoulders and back, according to Tech Xplore.
EksoVest, created by Ford and Ekso Bionics, wanted to ease an automotive assembly worker’s strain by creating an exoskeleton to alleviate the constant weight and pressure on their body.
Workers can face serious health consequences from the physical demands of repetitive overhead work. Some workers lift their arms over 4,000 times a day, equivalent to almost 1 million times per year, according to reports.
“Despite advanced virtual ergonomics planning, the shoulder remains the weak link in most physical assembly tasks for the 3,500 people work here,” said S. C. Stuart in PCMag. “This is where robotics come in via the EksoVest—not as a replacement (yet), but as an adjunct to human operators.”
The EksoVest helps keep a worker’s arms elevated and provides support to them throughout the day.
According to the video, Ford saw a 90 percent reduction in ergonomic challenges. This could help extend an employee’s work life and eliminate health-related problems in the future.
“We don’t want people retiring after 25 years at the plant and not being able to swing a golf club, or a grandchild, because their bodies are so worn out,” said Mart Smets, technical expert, humans systems and virtual manufacturing in PCMag.
Smets said that many exoskeletons have been built, but very little for automotive manufacturing.
Ford and Ekso Bionics indicated that worker’s will recognize when they are receiving help for overhead tasks from the vest. It also comes in handy for tasks that require tools weighing approximately eight-pounds.
The prototype vest weighed more than 15 pounds, but a lighter version was used in testing and was 3D printed, according to Extreme Tech.
An ongoing production study will determine if there is enough significant data to prove the exoskeleton is fulfilling its job. The lab phase will capture and compare levels of injury and strain for those wearing, and not wearing, the exoskeleton.