The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Ford Uses Virtual Lab to Deliver Increased Comfort, Visibility, and Quality

September 15, 2008

To optimize interior comfort, convenience, and ergonomics, Ford Motor Company uses a new tool called the Programmable Vehicle Model (PVM). The patent-pending mechanical device lets engineers like Richard Jakacki, operator, Ford Programmable Vehicle Model and iVR (seated in the PVM), and Daniel Orr, Ford craftsmanship digital build mechanic and VR technician, instantly shape a car's full-size interior and look at options for placing seats and controls.

DEARBORN, MI – An exclusive suite of virtual design tools is helping Ford Motor Company cost-effectively shave months off the product development process, while improving the quality, comfort, and customer appeal of its cars and trucks. Ford product development is anywhere from eight to 14 months faster than it was as recently as 2004. That acceleration is due, in part, to Ford's leadership in combining the most advanced virtual and digital tools available.

"We're really competitive in terms of time to market thanks in part to our digital capabilities," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vice president of Global Product Development.

Many of the virtual tools being utilized by Ford engineers and designers are housed inside the Immersive Virtual Review (iVR) lab at the Product Development Center in Dearborn, where designers and engineers can evaluate early vehicle designs against a backdrop of virtual conditions and literally experience a vehicle from someone else's vantage point before it is built, helping create Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury products that provide the "perfect fit" for almost all customer body types.

Within the iVR lab, anthropometric research gathered by engineers is studied to ensure vehicle designs can accommodate the broadest range of customers. Items evaluated range from reach and roominess, and ingress and egress, to examining door-handle location.

CAVE utilizes advanced motion-tracking equipment and computer software to generate virtual vehicle interiors and exteriors at actual scale, reducing the need to build physical prototypes. Within the CAVE, designers can evaluate the ergonomics of the interior, exterior craftsmanship, and clarity of views. The evaluator, for example, can look over his or her shoulder to judge whether the second row headrest would obscure a driver's view or to determine if the package tray under the rear window is too high.

And Ford's PVM is a computer-controlled, adjustable physical device that can instantly take on the dimensions of the full-size interior of any product so engineers can evaluate multiple design options against a number of criteria, including reach, blind spots, reflections, headroom, and steering wheel angle, just to name a few.

In the open-volume station, an operator, outfitted with a special headset and gloves, can immediately be immersed in a computer-generated virtual vehicle interior or exterior environment — complete with accurate depth perception — and be asked to perform certain tasks such as closing a liftgate or decklid.

The operator's actions are then captured by sophisticated cameras that track the movement of the sensors on the headset and gloves and can be loaded into a computer program for further scaled studies.  

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