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 How Ford Uses Robots in Vehicle Testing, Assembly

DATE: Will be calculated from "Release Start Date" field.

​DEARBORN - Robotics play a vital role in the automotive industry today, and Ford is leading the way in its use of robotics in plants, in vehicle durability testing and even out on the test track.

@Ford tagged along during a recent Robotics Forum conducted for members of the automotive media in order to share insight into just how Ford uses robots today.

Assembly-line robotics
The first leg of the tour involved a stop at Dearborn Truck Plant where Dan Klebe, manager, Dearborn Truck Plant (DTP) Launch Team, and Chuck Spurlock, engineer, DTP Automation, walked the group through the use of robotics in plants. Spurlock said there are generally more than 700 robotic elements involved in the assembly of each vehicle. From Paint to Final Assembly, robots help to reduce physical stress on human workers while improving the quality of Ford products due to their precise application of their specific tasks.

Click here to watch video.

Fairly early in the assembly process, robotic arms are used to apply a urethane adhesive to the exterior rim of a windshield while another arm assessed the opening and installed the window with the precise amount of pressure needed to create a secure seal.

Click here to watch video.

Toward the end of the line, another pair of robotic arms with laser-like heads measured fit and finish by checking points on the vehicle for margin and flushness.  If any areas are found to be out of specification, the vehicle is reported to Quality Leadership System for repair.  Employees on the line see this report as the vehicle travels down the line and make the appropriate repair. 

Durability testing robots
The next stop on the tour took us to the Durability Testing Labs where crews of engineers put every inch of our vehicles through the wringer to make sure they stand up to even the harshest conditions.

Click here to watch video.

One of the tests we witnessed was the Spindled Coupled Durability Test in which the vehicle is mounted atop four robotic arms and then tossed and jostled around for hours on end to measure the strength of the suspension.  According to engineers in the facility, vehicles will spend an average of five days straight bouncing about on the Spindled Coupled apparatus.

Click here to watch video.

Moving on our group donned winter jackets to enter a temperature controlled space where robots were repeatedly opening and closing all of the doors of a Ford truck. During this type of test (officially dubbed the door key life test), the doors will be opened and closed approximately 84,000 times in a variety of conditions from hot, to cold, to dusty in order to replicate a variety of real world scenarios.  Robots are needed in this case because they can endure temperatures un-fit for people.
 
 
Have you ever considered how many times you get into and out of your car during its lifetime? The last robot we witnessed in action at the durability testing lab had a molded replica of a human torso and bottom that was being set in the seat, twisting to face the front of the seat and then twisting again to exit. This test, intended to show the wear and tear a variety of seating upholsteries exhibit over time, is conducted roughly 50,000 times on each seat/seating fabric.
 
Driving robots
The next stop on the robotics tour offered up a taste of adventure as guests were given rides in a Ford F-150 driven completely by robotic elements. With gears attached to the steering wheel, another apparatus covering the gear shift knob and wiring running from a CPU in the backseat to the brake and gas pedals, some were in disbelief of what this system could do.
 
According to David Payne, manager, North American Test Tracks, engineers can program a test track route with a variety of boundaries and parameters either by first driving the route with a car outfitted with recording sensors, or by plotting the route manually using GPS data.
 
 
Our test pro, Jeff Bledsoe, technical specialist, Durability, first drove us out onto a portion of the test track that is 40 acres of open space, then clicked a toggle switch near the steering wheel to put the car into automated mode.
 
With swift action the steering wheel spun and the truck moved to a pre-plotted starting point on the course. Then, it took us through a series of slaloms, over bumps and then more slalom before coming to a stop at another pre-determined resting place.
 
Robots are typically used when test trial conditions are too severe for humans to repeat for hours on end. Their input is necessary to ensure each Ford truck is undoubtedly Built Ford Tough.
 

  

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1/7/2014 8:30 AM