I can completely admit that I’m a bit of a nerd and love superhero movies, with Iron Man being my personal favorite. The witty sense of humor, the billionaire playboy lifestyle and, of course, the kick-ass Iron Man suit all make for the best superhero. Every guy wants to be Tony Stark in real life. Well, a lucky few BMW employees in the Spartanburg, South Carolina plant get to try out that lifestyle for real.
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Well, sort of.
BMW’s assembly planner, Frank Pochiro wants to introduce something called the “Ekso Vest” to the plant workers in Spartanburg. Developed by Ekso Bionics in Richmond, California, the Ekso Vest is a backpack style device that helps reduce strain on the body. The vest acts as a sort of eksoskeleton that supports the upper body and arms when working overhead. Although the Ekso Vest isn’t powered, it makes objects seem weightless and allows for workers to work for longer without tiring. EksoBionics also feels that powered versions of these vests could exist in the future, increasing their capabilities.
“I used to think we really could use an Iron Man suit,” said Pochiro. “And when I saw exoskeletons on a TED Talk, I got management approval to start a pilot program.”
BMW isn’t the first company to incorporate such an idea for its plant workers. Audi developed a sort of carbon fiber “chairless chair” that allows for plant workers to be supported by a modified seating position while standing, thus reducing strain on their backs, knees and legs. But this new Ekso Vest will allow for plant workers to lift more and work overhead without fatigue or strain on their back and upper body.
According to Pochiro, “We’ve run trials on 30 employees and they really love it,”, claiming that employees who’ve used it don’t want to go back. currently, the trial for the Ekso Vest is only in BMW’s Spartanburg plant but if the trial is successful, the Bavarian brand could incorporate the vest into BMW’s other plants as well. The idea is to improve safety and body strain, creating a more relaxed and comfortable working environment which should not only improve production time but also employee satisfaction.