Auto workers have to perform repititve tasks that stress their bodies as often as 1 million times a year. Some Ford assembly line workers lift their arms during overhead work tasks as much as a million times a year which increases the likelyhood of fatigue or injury. Ford workers are being helped by a ne new upper body exoskeletal tool from Ekso Bionics the helps reduce the chance of injury.
Called EksoVest, the wearable technology elevates and supports a worker’s arms while performing overhead tasks. It can be fitted to support workers ranging from 5 feet tall to 6 feet 4 inches tall, and provides adjustable lift assistance of five pounds to 15 pounds per arm. It’s comfortable to wear because it’s lightweight, it isn’t bulky, and it allows workers to move their arms freely.
Designed and built for dynamic, real-world environments like factories, construction sites and distribution centers, the non-powered vest offers protection and support against fatigue and injury by reducing the stress and strain of high-frequency, long-duration activities that can take a toll on the body over time.
The physical demands of repetitive overhead work takes its toll on workers. Some workers on the assembly line lift their arms an average of 4,600 times per day, or about 1 million times per year, increasing the possibility of fatigue or injury. That’s where the EksoVest comes in. Ford and Ekso Bionics partnered to explore how this upper body exoskeleton that elevates and supports a worker’s arms can help. By reducing the strain on a worker’s body, he/she not only feels better at the end of every day, it also reduces the likelihood that the worker will sustain injury. Jobs get completed to a higher level of quality, in a shorter amount of time, increasing both productivity and morale.
“Collaboratively working with Ford enabled us to test and refine early prototypes of the EksoVest based on insights directly from their production line workers,” said Russ Angold, co-founder and chief technology officer of Ekso Bionics. “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.”
With support from the United Automobile Workers and Ford, EksoVest is being piloted in two U.S. plants, with plans to test in other regions, including Europe and South America.
“The health and safety of our membership has always been our highest priority,” said UAW-Ford Vice President Jimmy Settles. “With the proven success at the piloted locations, we look forward to expanding this technology to our other UAW-Ford manufacturing facilities.”
EksoVest is the latest example of advanced technology Ford is using to reduce the physical toll on employees during the vehicle assembly process. Between 2005 and 2016, the most recent full year of data, the company saw an 83 percent decrease in the number of incidents that resulted in days away, work restrictions or job transfers – to an all-time low of 1.55 incidents per 100 full-time North American employees.
“Our goal has always been to keep the work environment safe and productive for the hardworking men and women we rely on across the globe,” said Bruce Hettle, Ford group vice president, Manufacturing and Labor Affairs. “Investing in the latest ergonomics research, assembly improvements and lift-assist technologies has helped us design efficient and safe assembly lines, while maintaining high vehicle quality for our customers.”
To date, Ford ergonomists have worked on more than 100 new vehicle launches globally using ergonomic technology tools, including most recently the 2018 Ford Mustang, 2018 Ford F-150, and the all-new 2018 Ford Expedition and 2018 Lincoln Navigator. Through significant investments in the program, not only has Ford achieved a reduction in employee incident rates, it has seen a 90 percent decrease in such ergonomic issues as overextended movements, difficult hand clearance and tasks involving hard-to-install parts.
Ford initially partnered with EksoWorks to pilot the EksoVest in two U.S. plants. As a result, use of the EksoVest will be expanded to plants in other regions, including Europe and South America.
Coincidentally, Ekso Bionics is headquartered in the former Richmond, California Ford factory, which opened in 1931 and was the largest auto assembly plant on the West Coast. The plant manufactured Model A and AA vehicles before it was retooled during WWII to process tanks and jeeps at the direction of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Now, over 80 years later, it is home to cutting-edge exoskeleton technology that is changing the automotive industry.