Ford workers test a portable exoskeleton at an assembly plant and their shoulders and backs can benefit from the program.
EksoVest is a collaboration between Ford and the Californian company Ekso Bionics. In a video released in November, EksoWorks and Ford teamed up to prove the possibility of power, without pain. In this case, it was about empowering the auto assembly worker without having to deal with stressed shoulders and backs.
The shoulder is considered a weak link in most physical assembly tasks. Some workers are affected by the physical demands of repetitive work at height which results in muscle soreness. Some assembly line workers raise their arms an average of 4,600 times a day, or about 1 million times a year, according to reports, increasing the risk of fatigue or injury.
SC Stuart in PCMag: “Despite the virtual advances ergonomics planning, the shoulder remains the weak link in most physical assembly tasks for the 3,500 people who work there. This is where robotics comes into play via the EksoVest, not as a replacement (yet), but as a complement to human operators. “
This upper body exoskeleton technology elevates and supports a worker’s arms, making it easier to complete assembly line work.
A viewer comment on the video said that “anyone who has worked under their car on jack stands knows how tiring raising their hands is just after a few hours of lifting tools and parts, let alone someone who does. done all day, / every day “.
Wearing the vest means less strain on the shoulders and back. Results? According to the video, Ford has seen a 90% reduction in ergonomic issues such as tasks involving difficult-to-install parts.
EksoVest provides assistance to each arm as they are lifted above the head and, extrapolated to a full shift, after thousands of overhead litters this is a big deal, relieving the shoulder of a heavy load, as shown in Extreme technology.
The video says the support came from the United Auto Workers and Ford; the vest is being tested in two American factories. Tests are planned in other regions, notably in Europe and South America.
Since shoulders are expensive joints to repair, why wouldn’t an automotive company that relies on assembly line labor be interested? Marty Smets, technical expert, human systems and virtual manufacturing, was cited in PCMag: “We don’t want people to retire after 25 years at the factory and not be able to swing a golf club, or a grandchild, because their body are so exhausted. “
The vest can be adjusted to suit each worker. Bill Howard, Extreme technology, had a few additional notes on the vest. It fits workers from 5 feet tall to 6 feet-4. “It’s somewhat unusual for it not to be powered; instead, the force comes from the springs,” Howard wrote.
The company’s website said the worker would get a noticeable level of support for air tasks (1) which require either no tools at all, or (2) tasks requiring tools weighing up to approximately 8 pounds.
Smets: “We had seen so many exoskeletons in development, but nothing specifically designed for automotive manufacturing.”
A prototype vest from Ekso Bionics weighed over 15 pounds. The lighter version used in testing was 3D printed, said Extreme technology.
And after? Currently, a production study is underway where operators can choose to wear the vest and participate in the study. Next comes the lab phase, where data to compare injury and stress levels for those who wear or do not wear the exoskeletal support can be captured.
Interestingly, Ekso Bionics was at one time widely known for its presence in the medical industry, as the company behind an exoskeleton that allowed paraplegics to walk.
But Russ Angold said IEEE spectrum last year he had found demand in the industrial sector. “In 2015, we started getting a lot of inquiries, cold calls, people asking, ‘Where’s our construction exoskeleton, where’s our industrial exoskeleton?’”
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