The use of sensors in the auto industry is not just related to the development of ADAS systems. At the Ford Valencia Engine Assembly Plant in Spain workers are putting on special skin-tight suits that are studded with 15 movement-tracking light sensors. There is a wireless detection unit that monitors the movement and four motion tracking sensors that capture the image of the worker in a 3D skeletal format.
The workers perform assembly tasks and the information obtained by the system is analyzed by ergonomic experts who then can help modify the workstations so that they provide less stress on the workers.
The pilot system, which has so far involved 70 employees in 21 work areas, was developed by Ford along with the Instituto Biomecánica de Valencia.
Football—or soccer as its known in some parts of the world—is huge in Spain, which probably has something to do with an observation of Javier Gisbert, who is a production area manager at the Ford Valencia Engine Assembly Plant: “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.”
An interesting aspect of this is where the idea that led to the suit came from: engineers were attending a trade show and saw a display showing how robots could replicate the movement of humans. As a result, they’ve come up with a better way of having humans move like humans in the assembly of things like 2.0-liter EcoBoost Duratec engines.
Now you may be aware of tech like this being used by director James Cameron for Avatar. There is the possibility that there are some Cameron fans at Ford because the company is rolling out globally the “EskoVest,” which is gear that assembly workers who perform overhead tasks in Ford plants are now donning. It brings to mind the Caterpillar exo-suit worn by Sigourney Weaver in Aliens.
Explains Jack Peurach, president and CEO of Ekso Bionics, “At Ekso, our mission is to augment human capability with wearable technology and robotics that help people rethink current physical limitations and achieve the remarkable.”
As in performing better vehicle assembly, not battling giant aliens.
Paul Spadafora, chief engineer, Cadillac XT5, had, in his estimation, a fantastic opportunity as he and his team set about to develop Cadillac’s all-new midsize crossover vehicle for a number of reasons, one of which is the simple fact that this is one of the hottest segments going in the auto industry, so if you want to be in the game, you have to play hard against the likes of the Audi Q5 and the Mercedes GLE-Class.
As OEMs and suppliers seek lightweight solutions to meet higher fuel economy standards through multi-material structures, conventional welding techniques are beginning to give way to new solid-state joining methods better suited for creating strong bonds between dissimilar metals.
Several years back, one of the authors visited a major North American assembly plant engaged in the launch of a new vehicle program. A "ramp-up" schedule was prominently displayed on a bulletin board deep in the heart of the plant. The schedule indicated that the day of the visit was the same day the plant was originally planned to achieve full capacity production of its new product. Yet the plant was actually producing only a few units an hour! The assembly plant's tardiness is certainly not uncommon, but did contribute to our interest in the wide range in vehicle launch performance across major vehicle firms.