Ford: Quality Is Job 1 (or is that $100-million?)

Gary S. Vasilash

Not only do the 2012 Ford Focus and Explorer models look good, but Ford engineers are making sure that they are built well, to boot.

One of the ways they’re doing this is through the implementation of robots wielding lasers—no, not lasers a la James Bond in Goldfinger, but rather lasers that are used as highly precise sources of digital information that can be used to precisely measure things like the fit between two pieces of sheet metal on the exterior of a vehicle.

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

Ford Laser Focus 1

The company, which is investing $100-million globally to install the equipment in its manufacturing facilities, is currently using the robotic laser inspection systems in its Michigan Assembly Plant and Saarlouis, Germany, Assembly Plant, where the Focus is built, and the Chicago Assembly Plant, home of the 2012 Explorer.

The laser and camera systems (the laser provides the light source; the camera captures the data, which are then processed to the aforementioned 0.1 mm) were developed by Ford with Gonzalez Production Systems.

Ford Laser Focus 2

By, for example, assuring the proper fit of a door panel, they are able to be confident that there will be reduced wind noise, thereby contributing to higher levels of perceived quality. And while on the subject of perception: the system is setup so that if it measures an unacceptably large gap, it automatically shuts down the line, thereby taking any subjectivity out of the equation (e.g., “Aw, that’s not so bad. Let it go. . . .”).

In addition to which, by having gaps that are tight and consistent, the vehicles simply look more appealing.

Ford Laser Focus 3