Car Industry

Ford's exoskeleton could help factory workers in a big way

It's meant to help reduce fatigue when working on overhead tasks.

Ford

A tired, injured worker doesn't exactly make a great contribution to capital growth. That's why Ford is investigating an exoskeleton that could keep workers from breaking to pieces during difficult tasks.

Ford is testing an upper body exoskeleton called EksoVest. This nonpowered vest is capable of supporting a worker's arms during overhead tasks, which can wear a person down quickly and potentially even cause injuries. It'll work on people between 5 feet and 6 feet 4 inches tall, and it can help them lift between 5 and 15 pounds.

Do any sort of overhead work for years on end, and you'll see why this is necessary.

Ford

Workers have reported feeling less fatigued after their shifts. That means they have energy to do things outside of work, which is, you know, nice.

If you catch yourself saying, "Maybe they should try not being wimps," Ford is quick to point out that some of its line workers perform overhead tasks as many as 4,600 times per day. It's a little more involved than changing a lightbulb or painting a ceiling. (Having done the latter in the last two weeks, I can assure you it was terrible, and I would have appreciated an exoskeleton.)

Ford isn't alone in its support for this technology. The United Automobile Workers union is on board. EksoVest is currently being used in two US plants as part of a pilot program, and if it goes well, it could very well expand to other plants around the world.

Ford isn't the only automaker to look at ways to reduce worker fatigue. Last year, GM allowed me to use its RoboGlove, a force-multiplying glove that can reduce muscle strain related to gripping hand tools all day. 

No, this doesn't make you a cyborg. That's a bridge too far.

Ford