Ford makes $100m investment in robots

Ford is investing US$100 million globally to install robotic plant laser inspection technology to improve quality through reduced wind noise and more refined fit and finish.

According to a media statement released by Ford Motor Company, this new technology will be used during assembly of the new 2012 Ford Focus at Michigan Assembly Plant and the Saarlouis, Germany, plant, and the Ford Explorer at Chicago Assembly Plant. The technology then will be rolled out globally as part of Ford’s next phase of its quality initiative.

“Ford’s robotic laser technology gives us a degree of precision like never before,” said Ron Ketelhut, chief engineer, Body Construction Engineering. “The vision technologies verify the dimensions of interfaces on the vehicle’s body in a highly accurate way, to a tenth of a millimetre.”

The technology helps ensure car door panels fit more accurately and reduce wind noise, a key quality factor for consumers and a major industry challenge. The laser and camera systems that are major upgrades to plant robots were developed in collaboration with minority business partner Gonzalez Production Systems and improve the robustness of the overall manufacturing process.

The technology builds on laser-guided, end-of-line robotic technology pioneered by Ford’s European team to measure points on each vehicle as it moves past the line to verify build quality.

The robots are programmed to recognise any minute deviations from the correct specification and, if any errors are found, instruct the operator on the correct course of action. Ford first used the system in Germany and, after seeing quality gains, quickly rolled it out to plants around the world.

The precision technology helps advanced robots more accurately install the doors to reduce the potential for wind noise.

The laser vision technology also is being upgraded on the robots to help confirm the door quality margins once installed. The robots are even empowered to shut down the assembly line if the cameras detect a door does not fit Ford’s exacting quality measurements.

Human error is also reduced, as the machines are tuned to measure point specifications on the vehicle, whereas previously it was determined by an operator making a subjective judgment on whether it was accurate.