Ford to spend $100 mln to cut wind noise in cars

Thu Jun 2, 2011 12:01am EDT

* New system starts with plants in US, Germany

* Robot cameras aim to make doors fit better

DETROIT, June 2 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co (F.N) plans to invest about $100 million in robotic laser technology to make its car doors fit better and reduce wind noise inside the vehicle.

The automaker said on Thursday that it was installing the equipment first at plants that make the Ford Focus compact car in Wayne, Michigan, and Saarlouis, Germany, and a Chicago facility that makes the Explorer crossover sport utility vehicle.

The new system will overcome problems that can arise when a worker manually installs a door on a car, according to Ron Ketelhut, the chief engineer on the project.

"That process requires a lot of manual finesse," Ketelhut said, and a small gap in the seal can make for a noisy ride.

In the new system, a robotic camera takes a picture of the opening and makes tiny adjustments to ensure that the door fits snugly. After the car is painted later in the production process, another robot with a camera checks the fit again.

"If the margin between the front door and the fender needs to be adjusted by two-tenths of a millimeter, the robot will say to adjust this one area by two-tenths of a millimeter," Ketelhut said.

"Traditionally, with the manual system, we were always chasing the customer," he said. "We knew we had dissatisfied customers, and we were just going back and telling the manual people to do better. With the robotic system we're going to get out in front of the customer and give them what they want."

Ford plans eventually to roll out the technology to 17 assembly plants around the world.

Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood said the company did not expect major job changes from the technology as it consists of laser and camera upgrades to existing robots. (Reporting by Mike Miller; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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