Forget robots, Ford looks to create 'bionic' auto workers

Forget robots, Ford looks to create 'bionic' auto workers

"Collaboratively working with Ford enabled us to test and refine early prototypes of the EksoVest based on insights directly from their production line workers", Ekso Bionics co-founder and CTO Russ Angold said in a Ford press release.

"Since I started using the vest, I'm not as sore, and I have more energy to play with my grandsons when I get home", said Ford assembly line worker Paul Collins.

The EksoVest is attached to a worker's upper body and is "designed specifically to help with overhead tasks", says Digital Trends, with the lightweight construction supporting the wearer's arms and back.

Ford has been piloting the technology is two of its U.S. plants and has now made plans to roll the unit out for further testing at sites in Europe and South America.

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Ford has partnered with a bionics company to trial an 'exoskeleton' that it hopes will reduce worker fatigue and injuries. It can fit workers of varying heights from 5 feet to 6 feet 4 inches, and can provide lift assistance to up to 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) per arm.

He adds: "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". Already, exoskeletons are being used to help paraplegics walk, and applications for these technologies are even being expanded to provide support and enhancement for soldiers.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker has been studying for years how to lower its workers' injury rates and the exoskeleton venture is the latest step in that process. "With the proven success at the piloted locations, we look forward to expanding this technology to our other UAW-Ford manufacturing facilities". Between the years 2005 and 2016, an 83% decrease in injuries and work restrictions was reported, which is a rate of 1.55 incidents per 100 full time 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.