How Body Tracking Improves Ford’s Engine Manufacturing

Technology typically used by the world’s top sport stars to raise their game or ensure their signature skills are accurately replicated in videogames is now being used on an auto assembly line.

Employees at Ford’s Valencia Engine Assembly Plant in Spain have experimented with 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, according to a press release.

Player motion technology records how athletes sprint or turn, enabling coaches and game developers to unlock the potential of sport stars in the real world or onscreen. Ford is using it to design less physically stressful workstations for enhanced manufacturing quality and to reduce injuries.

“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, 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.”

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 the workplace, where production of the new Ford Transit Connect and 2.0-liter EcoBoost Duratec engines began this summer.

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 specialized motion-tracking cameras-”similar to those sometimes 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 to better fit employees.

Ford is now considering further rollout to its other European manufacturing facilities, the release stated, as part of an effort to reduce injuries.

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