DEARBORN, Mich., Dec. 12, 2007 ? Ford Motor Company?s virtual ergonomic technology is a key reason the company?s quality performance soared in 2007, improving 11 percent in the United States versus 2 percent for the industry average, according to a Global Quality Research System (GQRS) study.

Ford is the only North American automaker combining advanced motion capture technology with human modeling software to engineer and design jobs that are less physically stressful on workers and help deliver high-quality vehicles ? long before the vehicles are produced.

?This approach and these technologies provide real benefits, including fewer injuries, lower-cost tooling changes, higher quality and faster time to markets,? said Allison Stephens, Ford ergonomics technical specialist with Vehicle Operations Manufacturing Engineering. ?We?re seeing improvement in every one of those metrics, and our virtual technology is definitely a factor.?

Stephens demonstrates ergonomic technology on a virtual 2008 Ford Focus, explaining how the technology was transferred to the recently launched new small car.

Ford?s virtual manufacturing process begins by applying product specifications to the manufacturing plant to create a computer-generated virtual assembly line.

An engineer outfitted with a special harness and gloves performs an assembly operation exactly as the plant operator would on the line. The engineer uses the virtual tools to help guide his or her movements. Production parts are represented by physical props. A head-mounted display also can be used when three-dimensional viewing is required, such as when placing a part inside of a vehicle body.

The operator?s actions are captured by sophisticated cameras that track the movement of sensors on the harness, gloves and head-mounted display. The movements are loaded into a computer where human modeling software determines the ergonomic and quality impact on the assembly-line work. Changes can be made quickly and analyzed again.

The key is to use the advanced ergonomic design tools early in a vehicle program before building prototypes, said Stephens.

Ford has developed ergonomic requirements that are integrated into the company?s product design specifications and quality requirements. The company has been using virtual tools to improve ergonomics since 2000 and is collaborating with the University of Michigan on a consortium to further develop human modeling and predict motion.

?With this technology, we?re predicting the ergonomic affects of long-term repetitive motions,? said Stephens. ?The impact of this for our workers ? and on quality ? is tremendous.?

The GQRS study, conducted for Ford by RDA Group, asks customers of all major makes and models to comment on vehicle trouble and rate their overall satisfaction with their three-month-old vehicles.