Ford Uses Animation for Improving Worker Safety in Plants

American auto manufacturer, Ford will soon make use of animation technology to make their work place safer. Ford India recently stated that they created a worldwide avatar of a worker so that they can showcase and ensure that their vehicles are built the same way in whichever parts of the world. This is in spite of worker size’s varying significantly over the world.

This avatar was developed by Ford after collating shape and size data from six different assembly plants from the world over. The result was the creation of a 5ft 4in female avatar with hands that were large and male-like, according to their ergonomics specialist, Allison Stephens. The avatar’s size reflects that the company’s workers in most parts of the world are quite smaller, while the large hands are to ensure that workers at their North American or German plant can take hold of the required parts and perform the work.

According to reports, Alan Mullaly, the CEO of Ford led the company to follow a plan which included selling and building vehicles in all places using as many common manufacturing practices and parts as possible. Ford has been making use of digital modeling since many years now for designing their workstations to make them as ergonomic as possible for reducing any strain injuries.

The auto manufacturer however decided to take this one step further. They developed ”motion capture labs” in Merkinish and Dearborn in Germany. In this lab, people were suited up and had reflective tapes added on important joints and other body parts, with their movements being captured from 15 cameras. This data was then fed into digital human models so that their movement could be made more realistic. This technique is used in video games and computer animated movies.

Stephens reportedly said that the result of this project is that workers will have a safer work environment and consumers will receive good quality vehicles. The company’s manufacturing ergonomics engineer, Mary Heck, said that this technique, which was implemented in January, was centered mostly on the electric and hybrid variants of their new Focus model.

Heck further explained this project with an example, of when they put a person in their motion capture lab; they learnt that the installment of a strut was difficult to reach for someone who was smaller. A UAW worker at their Wayne plant in Dearborn led to the creation of a mechanism which helps to extend the reach of worker as well as make assembling easier. A taller worker has the option to not choose this aid.

The company is looking to design workstations at their assembly plants, where their global avatar ‘manikin’ can perform this task. Each of their plants will then tweak their workstations as is necessary for reflecting the individual plant and regional workforce. They also want to share their finding in their markets, where the manufacturing work is carried out by suppliers.

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