Possibly Coming Soon To A Ford Plant Near You: Bionic Workers

Ford exoskeleton

Ford exoskeleton

While many companies are replacing manufacturing workers with robots to limit costs and injuries, Ford (F) is testing a new solution that could give the automaker the best of both worlds. 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.

Created to fit workers from five feet to six feet four inches tall, the EksoVest adds some 3 to 6 kilograms (5 to 15 pounds) of adjustable lift assistance to each arm. "Since I started using the vest, I'm not as sore".

It provides between five and 15 pounds of assistance to each arm, so that there is less stress on workers' upper bodies.

Robots have replaced many United States manufacturing workers, but new mechanical exoskeletons being tested by Ford Motor Co (F.N) may help factory workers to function like bionic people, reducing the physical damage of millions of repetitive tasks over many years.

This will reduce some of the strain that workers might experience when they operate a heavy power tool, like a drill, for long periods of time.

The auto manufacturer is testing exoskeletons made by EksoVest in two of its US facilities.

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

"The health and safety of our membership has always been our highest priority", said UAW-Ford Vice President Jimmy Settles. But the idea isn't science fiction, and appeals to both the union and Ford for the same reason: the exoskeletons have the potential to reduce on-the-job injuries, as well make workers more efficient, since they're less exhausted from doing the same repetitive tasks. Between 2005 and 2016, the company said it used various ergonomic tools that drove an 83% decrease in the number of work-related incidents that resulted in days away, work restrictions or job transfers to an all-time low of 1.55 incidents per 100 full-time employees.

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