Ford pilots an exoskeleton to reduce worker injuries
- A new upper body support system called the EksoVest is undergoing a trial run at two U.S. Ford plants, Supply Chain Management reported last week.
- The EksoVest uses a spring system to aid workers faced with the need to work with their arms above their heads repeatedly. Five to 15 pounds of lift assistance is provided by the vests, which also relieve fatigue and stress-related injuries.
- Ford notes the average auto assembly worker lifts their arms roughly 1 million times a year on the job, a repetitive task that may result in injuries and lead to workforce shortages. To address this issue, the company partnered with Ekso Bionics and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) to develop a solution.
Hollywood portrayals of manufacturing plants may paint an image of labor- and strength intensive production processes prone to take advantage of and injure workers, but walk into a facility today and you will likely find one word posted throughout the four walls: safety.
Workers' health is a main concern for manufacturing facilities today, and not just because of strict Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. The reality is that each on-site injury, whether or not it leads to time off the job, is both a liability and a strain on worker morale. Each worker that must take time off due to injury is one less employee on the line, straining production capacity and forcing others to work more.
In its recent press release, Ford takes pride in having achieved an all-time low of "incidents that resulted in days away, work restrictions or job transfers" in 2016, at just 1.55 incidents per 100 full-time employees in North America. However, every incident is one too many, both for the company and workforce representatives.
As a result, companies are constantly seeking out innovations in operations technology that will reduce these labor risks. It could be safer machines — including conveyor belts and forklifts — or in this case, exoskeletons to improve labor productivity while reducing health risks.
The EksoVest is still in a pilot phase at two Ford plants, but it follows a history of corporate social responsibility initiatives by Ford.
The automaker stresses its sustainability credentials, choosing suppliers based on carbon disclosure results and redesigning factories to improve recycling initiatives, as a few examples. But with the newest initiative, Ford shows ethical production is about more than just the environment — it is also about occupational safety.
Manufacturing may have been slow to adapt to ergonomic solutions for workers, but working with Ekso Bionics as well as the UAW demonstrates a commitment to wellness, and marks another step in a healthy direction for Ford.