BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - DaimlerChrysler is working on a computer simulation model that could make its factory jobs easier.
Now under development in Auburn Hills, Mich., the system will allow engineers to analyze human movements and find ways to reduce the wear and tear on workers' muscles and joints.
The new tool, dubbed the Virtual Ergonomic Evaluation System, will be used to measure muscle and joint strain on the human body for any given task.
The virtual system will compute what is essentially 'muscle torque' on a three-dimensional computer program. Company engineers will use those findings to improve the way real-life workers handle their tools, manipulate parts or move at their workstations.
The system could be put into use as early as next year, according to Edward Gu, an associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. Gu is performing the advanced computer work behind the project.
He discussed the effort at this month's SAE Southern Automotive Manufacturing Conference and Exposition in Birmingham, Ala.
Once the simulation tool is perfected, DaimlerChrysler will incorporate it into its existing factory design simulation system.
The former Chrysler Corp. began using 3-D simulations two years ago to work out the bugs in its factory designs. Using that system, the automaker identified 200 design glitches in its new Toledo, Ohio, Jeep plant, saving $3 million before construction began.
That simulation system focuses on plant and tooling layout. It would ensure, for example, that contractors did not lay a water pipe under a machine line or run a duct system where a vehicle carrier track belongs.
The program under development adds another layer to that planning. In an effort to reduce worker strain and fatigue, factory planners will design assembly lines that minimize a worker's job motions.
But Gu said that development work is still under way. Part of the research uses servo motors to estimate the pressure of a given job on the human body. He said a patent has been filed on the project's method for estimating muscle and joint strain.