Ford has succeeded in reducing assembly-line injuries by about 70 percent in the US, since 2003, following the integration of new technologies such as lift-assist devices, workstation redesign and data-driven process changes.
As part of the data-driven change process, Ford has focused on three core virtual manufacturing techniques which simulate the build process using both human and virtual test subjects to assess the physical labour required. The collected data is used to develop engineering solutions to help reduce employee fatigue, strain and injury. The three core processes to collect the data are – full-body motion capture, 3D printing and immersive virtual reality.
The full-body motion capture system uses an array of over 52 motion-capture sensors placed on the body of an employee to monitor body movements and evaluate muscle strength and weakness and body imbalance. The immersive virtual reality system uses 23 motion- capture cameras and a head-mounted display to place an employee in a virtual workspace and evaluate task feasibility and proficiency. The third process, the 3D printing system, uses 3D-printed replica parts to help check hand clearances in the assembly process.
The new system has been used by Ford on over a hundred of its production vehicles with the latest being the 2015 Mustang and the new F-150 pick-up. The company claims to have seen a 90 percent reduction in issues such as overextended movements, difficult hand clearance and tasks involving hard-to-install parts.