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Ford investing $100 million in robotic quality control

Ford is investing $100 million globally in robotic plant laser inspection to enhance the accurate fit of parts and reduce wind noise beginning with the highly popular 2012 Ford Focus and Explorer models. Their highest volume facilities, including the Chicago and Michigan Assembly Plants along with the Saarlouis, Germany Ford plant, will use the technology to fabricate a more accurate door panel fit. The laser vision technology is part of an effort to achieve leadership in customer satisfaction.
Posted: June 2, 2011 - 5:25PM
Author: Don Bain

"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 millimeter."

The laser and camera systems are major upgrades to robots developed in collaboration with Gonzalez Production Systems. They significantly improve the overall manufacturing process in Ford’s eyes.

The technology works with laser-guided, end-of-line robotics pioneered by Ford's European team to measure points on each vehicle in the line verifying build quality. The robots are programmed to recognize deviations from specifications and, if errors are found, determine the correct course of action. Ford first used the technology in Germany and, seeing quality gains, quickly rolled it out around the world.

According to Ford, wind noise is important to the consumer definition of vehicle quality. They have gone to great lengths to minimize noise by pinpointing its source through a number of technologies. Machines detect air leakage from the cabin while others check for noise, vibration and harshness and still more simply check coordinate measures, another aspect of fit and finish. The new strategy uses this entire range of tools in addition to the vision-guided robots and laser inspection to ensure superior vehicle quietness.

According to the Consumer Reports 2010 Annual Car Reliability Survey, 90 percent of Ford vehicles, including Lincoln models, are Recommended Buys. Ford also has the highest initial quality among all non-premium brands and is ranked No. 5 in the 2010 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study.

Ford's customer satisfaction score is 82 percent, among the highest, and tied only with Volkswagen and Audi according to the RDA Global Quality Research Study.