Ford, Ekso team up for 'bionic' auto workers

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The motoring industry has used robotised production lines for decades - and now Ford is bringing the technology to its factory workers in the form of "wearable tool".

The exoskeleton is called the EksoVest and it is developed by Ekso Bionics in partnership with Ford.

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The EksoVest is sort of like a backpack with arm supports that the worker can strap onto themselves in probably around a minute. "It can be fitted to support workers ranging from 5ft to 6ft 4", and provides adjustable lift assistance of 5 lb to 15 lb per arm. 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. Ekso Bionics says the system is best for tools that weigh up to eight pounds but will also provide arm support for tasks that have no tools, but still require one's arms to be raised for extended periods of time, for example, when a worker is snapping a fuel line into place by hand.

Yet, despite not having to carry so much weight, factory workers in Ford's auto manufacturing plants still do tedious and hard work, considering how they have to perform overhead tasks repeatedly, up to 4,600 times a day or one million times a year.

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Two workers at each of the company's Wayne and Flat Rock factories have been testing the exoskeletons since May.

These "EksoVests" are also being tested in other regions located in Europe and South America, but US testing has been going on since May at Ford's Wayne and Flat Rock factories.

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"The idea is to demonstrate this isn't science fiction, it's real and it has real value", Angold said on Thursday. "As we prove its value, we will be able to expand into other tasks". Between the years 2005 and 2016, an 83% decrease in injuries and work restrictions was reported, which is a rate of 1.55 incidents per 100 full time employees.

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