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Ford tracks employee movements to reduce injuries

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Ford is using motion tracking to analyse how its employees working on car assembly lines move, in order to design less physically stressful workstations.

Around 70 employees in 21 work areas at Ford’s Valencia Engine Assembly Plant, in Spain, have had their movements recorded while wearing a special suit equipped with advanced body tracking technology.

The pilot system was created by Ford and the Instituto Biomecánica de Valencia. The project 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 process changes.

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 as they are working, highlighting head, neck, shoulder, and limb movements.

The person’s movement is recorded by four specialised motion-tracking cameras – similar to those paired with computer game consoles – that capture a 3D skeletal character animation of the user.

Ergonomists then use the data to help employees align their posture correctly, for example. In addition, measurements captured by the system, such as an employee’s height or arm length, are used to design workstations that better fit employees. 

Motion tracking is used in the by athletes to improve sporting performance, as well as in the film industry in motion capture techniques.

'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 at the 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.'

The engineers in this project took inspiration from a suit they saw at a trade fair that demonstrated how robots could replicate human movement. They then applied it to the Ford workplace in Valencia, where production of the new Ford Transit Connect and 2.0-litre EcoBoost Duratec engines began this month.

Ford is now considering further rollout to its other European manufacturing facilities.

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