All-New Ford Ranger Virtually Assembled by Hollywood Avatar

Mon, Nov 14, 2011

  • A digital employee undergoes ergonomic assessments that use Hollywood animation technology to get a head start on virtual assembly lines, reducing the physical stress of jobs and improving quality
  • Other than the global Ranger being built in Thailand and South Africa, the multinational avatar’s first overseas assignments are for new products planned for assembly plants in China as well as the all-new Focus being assembled in Germany and the U.S.


  • The global digital manikin now reflects the sizes and shapes of workers at assembly plants across the globe

Dearborn,Mich.,14 Nov., 2011 – Long before the first physical parts were produced or a prototype vehicle built for the all-new global Ford Ranger, Ford’s new Hollywood-inspired digital worker had already assembled the compact pickup in a virtual world.

Based on Ford’s North American virtual workers, “Jack and Jill”, the new multi-national avatar was created using size and shape population data gathered from Ford assembly plants across the globe to help ensure ergonomically safe workplaces and quality-built vehicles.

By customising this data, Ford researchers have created a manikin used in ergonomic assessments that employ motion-capture technology, the same type of technology that mesmerises filmgoers in Hollywood movies or in the latest video games. Motion capture is a technology that digitally captures movement, making nonhuman characters appear more lifelike.

“Ford is one of the leaders in virtual technology,” said Allison Stephens, Ford ergonomics specialist with Vehicle Operations Manufacturing Engineering in North America.

“We combine Hollywood’s motion-capture technology with human modelling software in our Detroit labs to design jobs in Asia and around the world that are less physically stressful on workers. We adjusted the sizes of our ‘Jack and Jill’ models to reflect the populations at our global plants so all our regions can benefit from what we’ve learned.”

As Ford is building new manufacturing plants in Asia and other parts of the world, Stephens said, it was imperative the new manikin be standardised to give clear engineering direction while continuing to raise quality.

Other than the all-new Ranger being built in Thailand and South Africa, the digital manikin’s first global assignments are for new products planned for new assembly plants in China, as well as the new Focus being assembled in Germany and the U.S.

The new effort is expected to help Ford continue impressive quality gains around the world.

One Ford, one direction

“Jack and Jill” are examples of the versatility of digital design. As part of Ford’s product development, the ergonomic data they provide are handed off to the virtual build arena, where a programme team – designers, engineers, suppliers and line operators – assemble a vehicle part by part, virtually.

In fact, the virtual build takes place even before Ford and its suppliers install tooling and set up workstations.

In the virtual build event, “Jack and Jill” assemble the vehicle on a wall-sized computer screen as the program team scrutinises the vehicle’s manufacturing feasibility; i.e., how well the parts go together in the assigned sequence and at the specific plant where the vehicle is to be produced.

“We need to have all four regions of Ford using the same manikin,” Stephens said. “Because we’re building global vehicles, we need to have one engineering direction. That’s what we have done.”

To determine the new dimensions of the modernised “Jack and Jill”, Ford North America and Ford of Europe collected data from their assembly plants around the world.

The data was then analysed by a researcher at Pennsylvania State University, who determined a dimension that would reflect Ford’s global worker population. The global worker population is larger, taller and heavier than the original – a 1.62m female global manikin was determined to represent the smallest individual found in a global Ford facility.

The standardised manikins can then be customised to the regional Ford population that is building a specific vehicle.

Building on success

The new standardised manikins provide benefits for workers, the company and customers.

“This is a very important move, because now everyone has the benefits of our high standards,” Stephens said. “We’re matching our job demands to our worker capability, so our assembly workers benefit, and because they can do the jobs correctly and well, our quality benefits.

“In the end, customers get the benefit of our improved quality.”

The benefits will continue as technology progresses and Ford builds on its success. Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., and Merkenich, Germany, have motion-capture technology labs where new ergonomic studies can be performed as new vehicles are designed. Visualisation centres are being developed for Ford facilities in Asia and South America with 3D television sets.

“If we do ergonomic studies for those places, we can simply send them the files and they can watch the studies in 3D; they won’t have to go to the expense of building their own motion-capture labs,” Stephens said.

Soon, too, the advanced manikins will have a friend, “Santos”, a computerised avatar now in the testing phase at Ford. “Santos” was created for the U.S. Department of Defence as part of the Virtual Soldier Research program at the University of Iowa; the military employs “Santos” to find ways to ease the physical strain on soldiers.

“Santos will be employed on highly demanding jobs that require many muscles to be analysed at the same time,” said Stephens. “This type of analysis has never been done before. We are excited to have Santos join the team.”