DEARBORN — (WWJ) A Ford employee moves along a chassis in an ergonomics lab, while an her avatar is projected on a screen above, showing her installing a hose on a 2016 Explorer.

At the same lab another Ford worker–wearing virtual reality glasses–tries to figure the best way to match a transmission to an engine. He sees a factory that exists only in the virtual world.

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Welcome to the world of Virtual Manufacturing.

“The first time I experienced it, it was like stepping into Star Trek,” said 23 year Ford employee Jae Perry.

Ford has put dozens of workers like Perry though this lab, and conducted the same measurements on those workers that trainers do on athletes.

The idea is to find the best way to do jobs that a worker may need to repeat hundreds of times during the day. Minimizing stress can significantly minimize injuries, and time off the job.

“How do we plan and how do we bring all those tools, the product, the work station together, with the operator being the central focus,” says Alison Stevens, a technical specialist in assembly ergonomics at Ford.

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In the past, work spaces were designed by a combination of experience and trial and error. Virtual Manufacturing makes the process more scientific.

“It just is a tool to allow us to do a better job,” says Stevens. “I love that it has the operator as the focus.”

This also has a benefit for the bottom line, as Ford has seen work place injuries drop 70 percent since 2003.

For the worker on the line, like Jae Perry, it makes life a lot better.

“It helps me to find so many problems that we have not found, and to be able to correct these things without having to wait weeks and weeks.”

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