Ford's robotic laser inspection system. Image: Ford Motor Company
Laser-beam-emitting-robots were once the stuff of 1950s science-fiction nightmares, but today they’re on our side and helping Ford Motor Company to build a better product. Ford has invested some $100 million to install robotic plant laser inspection technology in their Chicago, Michigan and Saarlouis, Germany assembly plants, all of which are considered to be high-production-volume locations. The robots will be used to measure panel fit and improve overall production quality.
The robotic laser technology will be used in the production of the Ford Focus and the Ford Explorer, at least for now. Ford’s long-term plan is to roll the technology out globally, and use it across their product line to improve product quality.
Ford’s ultimate goal is to lead the industry in customer satisfaction, and improved panel fit can lead to benefits such as reduced drag and minimized wind noise, which is a key quality factor in the eyes of customers.
Ford’s chief engineer for Body Construction Engineering, Ron Ketelhut, praised the technology by saying, “Ford’s robotic laser technology gives us a degree of precision like never before. 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 robotic laser technology builds on earlier laser measuring systems pioneered by Ford’s European team. The first prototype systems were employed in Germany, where Ford quickly saw measurable gains in production quality. Even early systems were designed to interact with line workers; if a deviation in measurement is found, instructions are given on how to correct the panel fit.
Upgraded laser vision systems will allow closer tolerances than ever before, which is a far cry from the old days when panel fit was determined by subjective line worker judgments. As with human line workers, the latest generation of inspection robots are empowered to shut down the line if a deviation from standard measurements is detected, which should ensure that every new Ford coming off the line is built to the exact same standard.