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Old 24-05-2011, 06:55 PM
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Young Male Engineers Develop All-New Ford Focus For All Ages

March 25 2011

* Ergonomics engineers use the Ford-developed Third Age Suit to help them develop the all-new Focus for customers who could be 30 years older than them
* The engineers also use a Pregnancy Suit to better understand the needs and potential restrictions of heavily pregnant drivers
* Research gained from the use of these suits ensured that the all-new Focus catered to the needs of the population

COLOGNE, Germany, 25 Mar, 2011

What does a middle-aged male engineer know about the difficulties of driving a car while heavily pregnant or suffering from arthritis?

In the case of Clemens Marek, quite a lot.

Based at Ford’s Merkenich Technical Centre in Cologne, Germany, Marek is an ergonomics supervisor working on the all-new Focus.

Before he tried on Ford's Third Age Suit for the first time he used to think he could develop a vehicle for everyone, that he understood the needs of the entire population.

"It was a real eye-opener," Marek said. "Like most people, when I first put it on I felt I wanted to prove that it didn’t affect me; that it’s really not that bad," he said.

"But after wearing it for an hour, it really hits home. It’s stressful, tiring and a bit tedious. In fact, it’s a bit scary because it gives you a glimpse of what it will be like when you get older, but then it feels great when you take it off.”

The Third Age Suit was developed by Ford to enable ergonomics engineers to experience the effects of the ageing process and help them develop vehicles for customers who could be 30 years older than them. The results from such work are shared with Ford Australia engineers when developing products for the local market.

The suit looks like a cross between a beekeeper's protective gear and a high-tech astronaut suit.

It is made from materials that add bulk and restrict movement in areas such as the knees, elbows, stomach and back. Heavy, adjustable metal braces restrict movement on every joint, and a larger brace around the neck limits head movement.

“The brace around your neck is very noticeable. It’s only when you put that on that you realise quite how much you turn your head when driving. It makes you use your mirrors a lot more and you have to adapt your driving style,” Marek said.

The weight of the suit means the wearer tires much more quickly than usual.

The wearer also puts on two pairs of rubber gloves to limit the sensation of touch. Over the top of these go specially-designed finger gloves which restrict the movement of the fingers.

Braces on the feet add weight and restrict movement. These are used to test foot swing clearance. There are also six pairs of glasses simulating a variety of sight problems, such as cataracts or tunnel vision.

“The foot brace is interesting for me as I have such large feet. I sometimes have trouble getting my feet into a car anyway,” Marek said.

“With these braces on, it can be almost impossible. The most noticeable aspect though is the weight. Every movement you make is more difficult and more tiring.”

Designing a Focus for all ages
The first-generation Focus was the first Ford vehicle to benefit from extensive use of the Third Age Suit.

Designers and engineers developed the vehicle with plenty of headroom, making it simpler to get in and out. They also designed a class-leading "H-point" – the point at which the hips swivel – which made getting in and out of the vehicle much easier.

Fast forward to the all-new Focus. Marek and his team were involved right from the start of the vehicle development process of the new-generation Focus.

Using the suit, they carried out critical tests involving the vehicle.

They touched every control, attempted reversing manoeuvres, ensured that one button could be pressed without another being accidentally touched, and they made sure they could get in and out of the car without too much trouble.

“We tend not to wear the suit for more than an hour at a time because it is just too tiring," Marek said.

"When you eventually take it off, it feels like you have regained 30 years. I often tell people that rather than the suit adding 30 years to you when you put it on, it is like you become 30 years younger when you take it off.

"A lot of people say they hope they never feel that restricted when they are old.

"Of course, it all depends on the person, their strength and their fitness. Not everyone will get like that.

"Old age affects everyone differently, but the suit gives us an idea and a basis to work with to help improve the usability of our vehicles for older customers.”

The team's discomfort has not been for nothing. In the all-new Focus the Third Age Suit has helped ensure optimum comfort and usability for customers of all ages.

“One of the main tests we used the suit for on the all-new Focus was finding the best location for the hazard warning indicator switch,” Marek said.

“We wanted to make sure that an elderly driver could press it without accidentally activating the door lock switch just beside it. And we also used the gloves to help us test the buttons on the entertainment system.”

Getting “pregnant” for a purpose
The Third Age Suit is not the only tool that the Ford ergonomics engineers use.

They also regularly make use of a Pregnancy Suit – a specially-designed garment that allows them to experience first-hand how pregnancy can affect drivers.

It consists of lead weights to simulate the weight of the baby, a ‘belly’ containing 2kg of water, and a weighted pouch on the underside of the belly that simulates the foetal head resting and applying pressure on the bladder. It also includes a rib belt that constricts the lungs, simulating shortness of breath.

The Pregnancy Suit is mainly used to check the location of the seat belts, but it is also used for ingress/egress tests.

It is designed to help the engineers better understand the problems pregnant women face when driving a vehicle, such as awkwardness in body movements, postural changes, shifts in centre of gravity and limitations in reach.

“I don’t tend to wear the ‘stomach’ myself,” Marek said. “I’m 193cm, so I’m not really the same size as your average pregnant woman. We try to find engineers who are closer to the average size of a woman otherwise the tests would be inaccurate.

“I have tried it though. The belly really makes you feel like you need to keep your equilibrium when walking and sitting and, like the Third Age Suit, it is amazing how quickly it becomes tiring.”

With the all-new Focus being sold around the world to people of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities, designing a vehicle to suit everyone’s needs is a difficult task.

With tools such as the Third Age Suit and the Pregnancy Suit, Ford engineers are able to gain an understanding, and some first-hand experience, of the needs of a far larger proportion of the world’s population.

"The suits have completely changed the way we work. It makes us look at certain things a lot more closely,” Marek said. “And what we notice now is that after all these years of wearing the suits; we don’t need to put it on so often.

“We automatically think of older people or pregnant drivers when developing vehicles now.

"We understand some of the difficulties that can come with old age or pregnancy and we think about these problems from the outset.”

The all-new Focus sedan and hatch will be launched in Australia in the third quarter.



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