The idea of fitting factory workers and military personnel with mechanical assistance systems have been thrown around for a very long time. The human body can only endure so much punishment, whether it's a single great force or repeated force over long durations, and it only makes sense if a system can help take some of that load off the operator. When a factory worker has to do the same thing nearly 4,600 times a day, a small discomfort can be a big issue.
Ford is doing just that in some of their factories, as they pilot a new exoskeleton program in partnership with Ekso Bionics. The EksoVest, as it's called, is a wearable device that supports a worker's arms while performing overhead tasks. Naturally this helps to reduce the stress on a worker's arms, both in the short term and long term.
The vest can be adapted for workers with a range of heights, from 5 feet tall to 6 feet and 4 inches tall (or 152 cm to 193 cm). It adds between 5 lbs and 15 lbs to each arm (or 2.2 kg to 6.8 kg). In short, it makes for a comfortable, light, wearable system that doesn't obstruct the user.
The EksoVest is currently being deployed in two different Ford factories in the US, with plans to employ them in Europe and South America as well if tests go well. The hope is to reduce the likelihood of injury as well as the strain on the worker as they carry out their tasks through the day.
But this isn't the first effort on Ford's part to improve working conditions and worker welfare. Since 2005 they have launched various intitiatives and programs, similar to how Toyota has their Kaizen system that constantly improves their production flow and efficiency. The result is 100 new vehicle launches using ergonomic technology tools, as well as a 90% decrease in installation issues and an 83% decrease in incidents that resulted in a worker being taken off line.