Auto Tech

Ford to invest $100 million in robot laser tech

Ford plans to invest $100 million in robotic plant laser inspection technology to help make parts fit more accurately and reduce wind noise.

As production of the fuel-efficient 2012 Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano begins this fall at the General Motors Orion Assembly Plant, 40 percent of the energy required to build the vehicles will come from burning gas from a nearby landfill - GM announced Thursday, May 19, 2011 in Lake Orion, Michigan. The use of the landfill gas, which saves GM $1.1 million a year in energy costs, also cuts the amount of greenhouse gases, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides released in the air. (Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors)
Steve Fecht
Ford uses robotic plant laser inspection technology assembly on the 2012 Ford Focus at Michigan Assembly Plant. Ford

The 2012 Ford Focus and Explorer models will have quieter cabins thanks to new laser inspection technology.

Ford today announced it is investing $100 million to install robotic plant laser inspection technology to better attach doors and other large panels to vehicles. A tighter fit equals less cabin noise, Ford said.

-Ford will use the new robotic laser inspection beginning with the much-anticipated 2012 Ford Focus and Ford Explorer models. Ford

The new laser inspection will be used at the at Michigan Assembly Plant and the Saarlouis, Germany, plant, both plants build the 2012 Ford Focus. And then at the Chicago Assembly Plant, which builds the 2012 Ford Explorer.

According to Ford, robots are programmed to recognize any minute deviations from the correct specification and, if any errors are found, instruct the operator on the best corrective action. The robots can, for example, shut down the assembly line if the cameras detect that a door does not fit perfectly.

"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."

Ford is also counting on a reduction in human error, as the machines are tuned to measure point specifications on the vehicle, whereas it previously was left to an operator to make a judgment call on whether it was accurate, Ford said.