Since November of 2017, Ford Motor Company has been testing EksoVests in two of their plants. As of August 2018, Ford will be distributing 75 vests to employees at 15 plants across the globe. Produced by California robotics company Ekso Bionics, the vests offer passive support for employees on the assembly line. That is, the vests don’t provide any active support for employees using batteries or motors. Instead they use a metal spine to relieve neck, arm, and spine pressure, specifically ratcheting up support for tasks performed above the waist and shoulders.
Worker safety and productivity are chief concerns for manufacturing companies and Ford’s employees frequently suffer from shoulder and other injuries on account of their work. Ekso Bionic’s vests, already utilized by companies like Lowes and Willmott Dixon among others, could provide a potential employee welfare and productivity increase while also reducing healthcare costs. Could bionic suits become ubiquitous and what effects might the added hardware have on construction workers’ health and the economic and environmental costs of manufacturing?