Ming Leu, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Missouri S&T, is using remote-control devices from the popular Wii gaming console and putting them to work to improve manufacturing processes. He’s using the devices — called Wiimotes — to record an assembly process in hopes of improving the way companies train workers, shortening cycle time, reducing workplace injuries and helping manufacturers improve the way they communicate with plants all over the globe.
What makes the Wii device so appealing to Leu is its wireless communication, which covers a good measurement range, and low cost. Just as gamers can use the Wiimote to simulate the movements of a tennis racquet or bowling ball, so a properly situated Wiimote camera can capture movements of an assembly-line worker throughout a variety of processes.
“The Wiimotes allow us to easily capture motion in the assembly process wirelessly,” says Leu, the Keith and Pat Bailey Missouri Distinguished Professor of Integrated Product Manufacturing. “We can track that motion, analyze the processes and make improvements based on the data generated through the motion-capture.”
The Wiimote camera works by detecting an infrared signal that latches onto light-emitting diode (LED) sensors and tracks the movement. In Leu’s process, workpieces, assembly tools, robots or other machines, as well as assembly-line workers, would be equipped with LEDs that the Wiimote cameras can track. Any number of infrared cameras based on the Wiimote could be mounted throughout a factory to capture and record movements.
Leu is exploring the feasibility of this idea by recording a manufacturing process under way in his home department of mechanical and aerospace engineering. A group of students in that department is fabricating a microsatellite as part of a design project.