In a move to cut costs and improve efficiency, Ford is developing a complete virtual factory to simulate assembly line production processes. This will enable engineers to work together on ‘virtual build events’ and conduct 3D vehicle analysis without actually having to go to the real factory.

Ford was actually the first to simulate vehicle assembly on computers for facilities worldwide in 1997. Now it will use sophisticated camera equipment, including special projectors and polarising motion-sensing glasses to digitise its real-world manufacturing processes, with its Valencia plant in Spain the first to receive this technology. In future, evaluations and analyses of Ford plants around the globe can be conducted remotely from there.

“We can piece together complete cars in a virtual environment and assess the construction down to the finest detail,” says Ford of Germany’s implementation manager Nick Newman.

Even the actions of assembly line workers (male and female) in the real world can be simulated in order to ergonomically avoid strenuous postures and positions during the operation of machinery, down to the movement of fingers within an enclosed space. Ford says their virtual employee ‘Jack’ can uncover 80 per cent of ergonomic issues at simulation stage.

The company is also increasingly using ‘augmented reality’ vehicles. Data is collected on every single component and the car can be ‘built’ from start to end in a virtual environment.

In Cologne, Germany, Ford’s Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) facility can evaluate aspects like visibility, instrument reach, ergonomics and roominess before a prototype is built.