Technology used by the world’s top sports stars to raise their game, or ensure their signature skills are accurately replicated in video games, is being used to design less physically stressful workstations on auto assembly lines.
Workers 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, allowing coaches or game developers to unlock the potential of sports stars in the real world or on screen.
Javier Gisbert, the Valencia plant’s production-area manager, says Ford is using it to help enhance 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,” Gisbert says in a statement.
“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.”
Ford engineers took inspiration from a suit they saw at a trade fair that demonstrated how robots could replicate human movement and then applied it at Valencia, where production of the new Transit Connect and 2.0L 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 motion-tracking cameras placed near the worker and captured as a 3-D skeletal character animation of the user.
Ergonomists 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 that better fit employees.
Ford is considering a rollout to its other European manufacturing facilities as part of a worldwide effort to reduce employee injury rates through the introduction of ergonomics technologies and data-driven process changes.