RUTH, as the new robot is known, stands for Robotized Unit for Tactility and Haptics (tactile sensation applied to computer applications). The new machine arrived on the continent earlier this year, immediately confirming the 2013 Ford Fusion has an interior pleasing to the consumer.
Quality can be a nebulous thing to identify, but when a customer sits in a premium car, the tactile qualities of the trim and buttons tell them the car is special. Touch and an intuitive sense of quality are innately human characteristics, although they are not easy to measure. So the answer to that equation is RUTH.
RUTH assigns quantifiable level measurements to vehicle characteristics like softness, roughness, temperature, hardness and comfort, allowing Ford to tailor each interior to its particular demographic.
The truest beauty comes from within and RUTH is little more than a giant arm with six joints, programmed to poke the trims, turn the knobs, push the buttons and interact with most of the vehicle’s interior areas just as a person would.
In North America, Ford engineers are finding numerous ways to work with RUTH, for example getting her opinion on seat comfort – a global first! Eileen Franko, Ford craftsmanship supervisor, believes RUTH will lead the way to greater customer satisfaction.
“Thanks to the data provided by RUTH, we can be sure the customer who buys a car like Fusion will experience the same type of quality they might feel if they were to buy a high-end luxury car,” Franko says. “I might be biased, but RUTH isn’t. We know the steering wheel and the armrest softness in Fusion are the best in the world.”
For many years, Ford’s interiors resulted from worldwide consumer research where customers tested various parts, providing feedback about their preferences. RUTH doesn’t change that aspect, but now RUTH is onboard from start to end to assure the feeling of quality.
RUTH pre-measures interior samples submitted to consumer test studies. When the results are tallied, she supplies a solution to implementing the new data into the mass production process. In other words, quality control is no longer a guessing game by harried inspectors with RUTH on the job.
A relative newcomer to North America, RUTH was first introduced in Europe and can be found only in Ford’s product development center, where she has already improved the quality of many parts of many cars.
RUTH embodies Ford’s commitment to making premium products accessible to a growing group of customers.
“We are going further for our customers by more accurately and quickly assessing our products’ performance,” Franko says. “RUTH simulates the motor skills of a real person, allowing us to get precise measurements that explain what the customer wants. Engineers can take the findings and implement them. As a result, when customers sit in an affordable car like Fusion, they’ll feel instantly like they’re in a high-end ride.”
Luke Robinson, Ford metrologist and RUTH technician, knows she has increased productivity.
“Before RUTH, many engineers had access only to hand-held measuring tools, and no means to test the interiors in a manner that resembled in-vehicle scenarios,” he explains. “An engineer outside of our department might even have pushed a dictionary and a pop can into an armrest to measure its resistance and softness. But now engineers can contact us and we can put RUTH into a vehicle; within a few hours, we can give them tangible data.
“With years of Ford customer research to tell us where to start,” Robinson added, “we can use RUTH to measure exactly what the majority of customers want.”
Just don’t give her any lip – there’s a lot of power in that arm!