Technology typically used by
the world’s top sport stars to raise their game, or ensure their signature
skills are accurately replicated in leading video games, is now being used on
an auto assembly line.
Employees at Ford’s Valencia
Engine Assembly Plant, in Spain, are using a special suit equipped with
advanced body tracking technology. The pilot system, created by Ford and the
Instituto Biomecánica de Valencia, has involved 70 employees in 21 work areas.
Player motion technology
usually records how athletes sprint or turn, enabling sport coaches or game
developers to unlock the potential of sport stars in the real world or on
screen. Ford is using it to design less physically stressful workstations for
enhanced manufacturing quality.
“It’s been proven on the
sports field that with motion tracking technology, tiny adjustments to the way
you move can have a huge benefit,” said Javier Gisbert, production area
manager, Ford Valencia Engine Assembly Plant. “For our employees, changes made
to work areas using similar technology can ultimately ensure that, even on a
long day, they are able to work comfortably,” Gisbert added.
Engineers took inspiration
from a suit they saw at a trade fair that demonstrated how robots could
replicate human movement and then applied it to their workplace, where
production of the new Ford Transit Connect and 2.0-litre EcoBoost Duratec
engines began this month.
The skin-tight suit consists
of 15 tiny movement tracking light sensors connected to a wireless detection
unit. The system tracks how the person moves at work, highlighting head, neck,
shoulder and limb movements. Movement is recorded by four specialised
motion-tracking cameras – similar to those usually paired with computer game
consoles – placed near the worker and captured as a 3D skeletal character
animation of the user.
Specially trained ergonomists
then use the data to help employees align their posture correctly. Measurements
captured by the system, such as an employee’s height or arm length, are used to
design workstations, so they better fit employees.
Ford is now considering
further rollout to its other European manufacturing facilities. It is part of
Ford’s work – underway since 2003 – to reduce the injury rate for its employees
worldwide through the introduction of ergonomics technologies and data-driven
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