Ford Motor Co. is investing $100 million globally to install robotic laser inspection technology to improve fit and finish quality at its assembly plants. It will allow robots to accurately install doors to reduce the potential for wind noise.

One of the first facilities to receive the new system is Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, the recipient of ASSEMBLY Magazine’s 2012 Assembly Plant of the Year award.“Robotic laser technology gives us a degree of precision like never before,” says Ron Ketelhut, chief engineer for 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 system helps ensure car door panels fit more accurately and reduce wind noise, a key quality factor for consumers and a major industry challenge. The laser and camera systems were developed in collaboration with Gonzalez Production Systems Inc. According to Ketelhut, they “significantly improve the robustness of the overall manufacturing process.

“The technology builds on laser-guided, end-of-line robotic technology pioneered by Ford engineers in Europe to measure points on each vehicle as it moves past the line to verify build quality,” explains Ketelhut. “The robots are programmed to recognize any minute deviations from the correct specification and, if any errors are found, instruct the operator on the correct course of action.”

The laser vision technology also is also used to confirm door quality margins. The robots are empowered to shut down the assembly line if the cameras detect a door does not fit the quality measurements.

“Human error is also reduced, as the machines are tuned to measure point specifications on the vehicle,” says Ketelhut. “Previously, it was determined by an operator making a subjective judgment on whether it was accurate.”

Wind noise is a primary consumer consideration when judging the quality of a vehicle. To tackle the issue, Ford engineers also check air leakage from cabins with leak detectors, NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) chambers and coordinate measuring machines.

“The technology will eventually be rolled out globally as part of the next phase of Ford’s quality initiative to lead the industry in customer satisfaction,” says Ketelhut.