Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Computer models ease Ford workers' tasks, raise quality

Designing ergonomics into the job ...

"On Tuesday, Ford showed off its secret virtual operations to the media in its manufacturing development center on Mercury Road in Dearborn.

The facilities help Ford re-create automotive factories, parts and cars that are lifelike -- with the exception of their bright candy colors -- so that virtual autoworkers can assemble them and pinpoint problems in the computer world, which is less expensive and faster than the real world.

Dan Hettel, chief engineer for vehicle operations at Ford, said the operations have taken on increasing importance as the automaker tries to get new cars and trucks to market faster and with better quality.

"There's just no time to do it any other way," he said. "We create a whole virtual factory where we build the vehicles."

The approach has reduced the amount of expensive and time-consuming work Ford has had to do with pre-production vehicles. Vehicles now reach that stage with fewer ergonomic and other problems, Hettel said.

This sophisticated computer-aided approach helped Ford improve its quality by 11% last year, while the industry improved just 2%, according to a 2007 study by Global Quality Research System. The study was commissioned by Ford.

Ford's virtual software, developed with the help of German supplier Siemens AG, also includes a digital human model, which is essentially a smart avatar that records critical facts for engineering the process required to build a car or truck. That includes facts such as the stress on joints to move a heavy part or how far an autoworker must reach to install a bolt or wire.

The data are then used to make the job simpler and less stressful on the body, said Allison Stephens, Ford's ergonomics technical specialist with vehicle operations manufacturing engineering.

"Our digital employees -- Jack and Jill -- are helping us predict the ergonomic effect of long-term repetitive motions," she said. "The impact on health and safety metrics, as well as on quality, has been tremendous."

The more difficult a job is to complete physically, she explained, the less likely it is to be completed properly. So Ford uses the data to make tasks easy enough to be done correctly during the time allotted.

The automaker also wants to ensure that jobs are easy to perform ergonomically to reduce injuries, which results in employee turnover. Tasks are also more likely to be completed correctly when there is more stability and less rotation of personnel, Hettel said."    (Continued via Detroit Free Press)    [Ergonomics Resources]

Assembly Line Ergonomics - Ergonomics

Assembly Line Ergonomics

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