VALENCIA/DEARBORN/LOUISVILLE - Flexible automation systems introduced for the Lincoln Strategy have greatly improved process control and quality.
Dirt in paint is a quality variable with many root causes that has been difficult to manage with conventional quality control methods. Dirt can come from environmental sources, process equipment or paint materials themselves, which makes it one of the toughest variables to control in the paint shop. Dirt particles have been a persistent issue, even with extremely clean paint shops, improved processes and new paint technology.
The Vehicle Operations Manufacturing Engineering (VOME) skill teams are always aware of the cost of quality during vehicle manufacturing. As insignificant as a single dirt particle can be, dirt has a quality effect on the entire paint job. A new vehicle with nibs under the clearcoat paint could lead to warranty repair work and the loss of customer confidence. Flawless paint enhances customers’ impressions of vehicle quality.
The new Automated Inspection System process makes a microscopic scan of the painted surface, and then cues operators to complete the repairs on the adjacent polish decks. In the past, the careful surface inspection for the layers of paint was highly dependent upon human-eye inspection, which is non-value-added effort.
This past October members of the Ford of Europe VOME skill team were recipients of the 2012 Henry Ford Technology Award. José Asensio (VO-Spain), Miguel Prior (VO-Spain), Alvaro Herraez (VO-Spain), Michael Thomas (VO-Germany) and Josep Tornero (Supplier-Spain) were recognized for developing the “Dirt in Paint Vision System” technology.
The development took place at the Ford Valencia Plant over a six-year span under the direction of Tornero’s team at IDF, a division of the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia. Valencia-based automation supplier ICEMI worked with the Valencia plant and IDF to commercialize the technology for Ford Valencia in 2011, then in Ford Genk in 2012. Vehicles produced in these plants with the new equipment include the Ford Kuga, Ford C-MAX, Ford Transit Connect and Ford Mondeo.
The technology was enhanced to support North American models in the Dearborn Truck Plant (DTP) and the Kentucky Truck Plant (KTP) for the 2013 model year, and it is one of the most exciting and revolutionary vision technologies currently in place at a Ford manufacturing facility.
“It took about one year to develop and implement this technology for the North American production rates and vehicle complexity,” said Tom Dougan, project manager, VOME Paint Facilities. “We needed the technology to be more robust to adapt it to many body styles, faster line speeds, different paint colors and paint combinations. We also are developing a software system that allows the extraction of data from inspection machines to guide process improvement efforts,” he continued.
Dougan explained that the system works like a 3-D scanner. The conveyor places the recently painted car inside an inspection enclosure where it stays motionless while it is scanned with moving light bars and an array of cameras for image acquisition. The light creates a contrast, which highlights surface defects. Computer software compiles the images and compares them to surface design standards.
“The system is designed to apply light of different intensity depending on color while travelling alongside painted surfaces of car bodies. The combination of high-resolution cameras, special lighting and a computer algorithm enable to detect defect size and position.”
The development of the system, allows all painted cars to be processed with same Ford Consumer Product Audit (FCPA) criteria, level of accuracy and within cycle time.
“The most impressive innovation of the equipment is its 15 second cycle time, in which the AIS processes around 1,500 pictures of the paint job at high resolution,” Dougan says, “Early warranty results have shown 60 percent improvement. We have also seen encouraging feedback from dealers and customers in the finish and the looks of vehicles.”
The technology development team is looking to add features to verify correct body color and inspection capability for e-coat, which will let plant engineers know about the quality and performance of the pre-treatment processes in order to drive improvements.
This is one of the most exciting optical instrumentation innovations, which features the complete integration of optical science with digital technology.
By combining innovations in vision technology and software, the VOME skill team has implemented a defect detection system that provides the paint process a much higher stability and repeatability.
The next systems will be deployed this year at Chicago Assembly and Oakville Assembly for Lincoln MKS, Ford Taurus, Ford Explorer, Ford Edge and Ford Flex.
In the field of automotive innovation and quality, the VOME paint teams and supplier associates continue working to expand technological development in order to achieve finer finishes for impressive showroom looks.