Ford is testing exoskeletons to reduce risk of production line injuries

By Darren Cassey

Ford has partnered with a bionics company to trial an ‘exoskeleton’ that it hopes will reduce worker fatigue and injuries.

The car manufacturer is working with California-based Ekso Bionics to test its EksoVest product. It is designed to mechanically support the weight of employees’ arms as they work overhead.

In nature, an exoskeleton is an external skeleton used by some animals to support or protect their body. Powered exoskeletons, such as the EksoVest, have been developed for humans to reduce fatigue or increase strength. They typically use electric motors, levers or hydraulics to enhance natural movements.

It provides between five and 15 pounds of assistance to each arm, so that there is less stress on workers’ upper bodies. Ekso Bionics says the average automobile assembly line worker lifts their arms about 4,600 times a day, which is about one million times per year.

The company says that the vest was initially tested at just two US plants, but it will now expand to 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. The EksoVest is now ready to help workers around the world.”

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