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Ford Invests in Robots with Lasers

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author photo by Autotrader June 2011

Ford is laser focused on noise these days. The company is investing $100 million globally in robotic laser inspection technology to help make parts in its vehicles fit more precisely and reduce wind noise.

Ford has made great strides in minimizing noise by pinpointing its source through a number of technologies including machines that detect air leakage from the cabin, NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) chambers and Coordinate Measuring Machines. Adding vision-guided robot cells and laser inspection ups the ante even more.

"We just launched the technology at our global 2012 Focus plants (Wayne, Michigan and Saarlouis, Germany) and at the Chicago Assembly plant. We plan to install them in nearly 20 plants globally during the next few years," Wes Sherwood, Ford Quality Communications Manager, told AutoTrader.

"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 upgrades to the robots, developed in collaboration with Gonzalez Production Systems, help ensure that car door panels fit more accurately and reduce wind noise. Wind noise is a primary consumer consideration when judging the quality of a vehicle.

The laser-guided robots are programmed to recognize even tiny deviations from the correct specification. If any errors are found, the robots can instruct the operator on the correct course of action. The robots are even permitted to shut down the assembly line if the cameras detect a door that does not fit Ford's exacting quality measurements.

The chance of human error is also greatly reduced. The machines are tuned to measure point specifications on the vehicle. Previously, an operator making a subjective judgment on the accuracy determined those specs.

So, does that mean robots will be replacing humans?

Not the plan, says Sherwood, "This laser vision technology is a significant upgrade to our current robots. These systems do not replace workers; they help them do their jobs more effectively with precise data to make sure the vehicles are as high quality as possible."

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Ford Invests in Robots with Lasers - Autotrader