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Ford Fights Wind Noise With $100M Laser Investment

June 7, 2011
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DEARBORN, MI-Ford says it is set to roll out a robotic laser inspection technology across 17 assembly plants.

The anticipated $100 million investment is meant to better the quality control of the fit and finish of components at hundreds of positions around a car –--particularly of its doors---to keep wind noise to a minimum.

The initial execution of the technology will be made at Ford’s Saarlouis assembly plant in Germany, where the Focus model is produced, and at its locations in Michigan and Chicago where Ford makes the Explorer. After that, the technology will be rolled out across 17 plants around the world.

Ford Europe’s manufacturing quality manager Ron Johnson says that the scanner system measures the position of 500 key points on a car to a precision of 100 micrometers, helping to correct any doors that are slightly out of position. Up until now at Ford, this judgment had relied on a human operator’s viewpoint.

News of Ford’s major investment comes at the heels of rival car maker Volkswagen’s estimated $81 million investment in 50 high-power laser systems from fellow German company Trumpf. Those systems, based on thin-disk lasers, are to be used in metal welding and cutting applications rather than quality control.

Both moves illustrate how car manufacturers are have invested in new technologies following the slowdown in production sparked by the financial crisis and global recession in 2008, a trend benefiting suppliers of advanced, photonics-based manufacturing technologies.

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