Ford looks to motion tracking bodysuits to aid factory workers
Skin-tight suits could help improve the posture of factory workers at Ford

Ford looks to motion tracking bodysuits to aid factory workers

Workers at a Ford car plant are wearing skin-tight bodysuits equipped with sensors to help improve their postures and enhance productivity.

Employees at Ford’s Valencia Engine Assembly Plant, in Spain, are using a special suit equipped with body tracking technology. The pilot system, created by Ford and the Instituto Biomecánica de Valencia, has involved 70 employees in 21 work areas.

The technology is similar to player motion technology that usually records how athletes sprint or turn, enabling sports coaches or game developers to unlock the potential of sports stars in the real world or on screen. Ford has been using the same tech to design less physically stressful workstations to enhance their manufacturing processes.

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 Valencia Engine Assembly Plant, where production of the new Ford Transit Connect and 2.0-litre EcoBoost Duratec engines began this month.

Sensor-equipped skin-tight suits

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. This 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.

Javier Gisbert, production area manager at Ford Valencia Engine Assembly Plant said:

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.

“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 is now considering further rollout of the sensor-laden skinsuits to its other European manufacturing facilities.

Internet of Business says

Ford’s announcement marks its growing faith in motion capture technology to aid ergonomic improvements in its manufacturing facilities.

The automotive giant now uses body motion capture technology alongside virtual reality (VR) assessments, which evaluate employees and new assembly line processes to determine their proficiency and feasibility. When a VR version is inconclusive, 3D printed models are employed to validate hand clearance.

Ford claims to have reduced its assembly line employee injury rate by 70 percent since 2003, thanks to its research into ergonomics and lift-assist technology. Its ergonomists now carry out more than 900 virtual assembly task assessments for each new vehicle launch.

The company even refers to its assembly line workers as ‘industrial athletes’ due to the physical demands of the job and their approach to injury prevention.

By accurately tracking its workers movements Ford is enabling data-driven changes to its vehicle production processes, making them safer and more efficient.

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers IoT, mobile technology, cloud, and infrastructure. In the past, he has also worked as an analyst for both Gartner and IDC. He has made numerous television appearances discussing the technology trends and companies that shape our lives.