Ford has expanded the trial of the EksoVest, an upper-body exoskeleton designed to support the wearer's arms, to 15 of its factories across the globe.
Made by Ekso Bionics, the EksoVest helps support the weight people are carrying, thereby reducing the stress on both the shoulders and arms, and alleviating the physical demands of repetitive overhead tasks.
Ekso says its vest provides between 2.3 and 6.8 kilograms of lift assistance per arm, and provides a "noticeable level of support" when performing tool-free tasks or working with tools weighing up 3.6kg.
The EksoVest is suitable for people between 1.52 and 1.83 metres tall, and weighs 4.3kg. The company estimates some automotive line workers lift their arms 4600 times per day, or a million times per year.
“I don’t want the EksoVest to ever leave,” Nick Gotts, an assembly worker at Flat Rock said. “Any job that’s overhead, I wouldn’t work without it.”
In the original pilot, the EksoVest was used at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, and the Flat Rock Assembly Plant, both of which are close to Ford's global headquarters.
As part of the expanded trial, some Asian, European and South American plants, and all North American factories will have access to one exoskeleton vest.
It's not clear if the company plans on rolling out the vests more widely, or how much it will cost to do so.