By on March 26, 2008

bilde1.jpgFord invited journalists over to check out its "virtual assembly" technology. (Our invitation was lost in cyber-space.) The Detroit Free Press came, saw and geeked out, leading off their breathless coverage with "If you want to know why Ford Motor Co.'s quality is improving so much…" But what exactly is this strange and mystical technology which makes otherwise credible journalists into so many ad copy writers? Combining motion-capture and computer modeling technologies, Ford "builds" model factories and inhabits them with avatar workers who virtually assemble vehicles. By analyzing how production operates virtually, Ford engineers can streamline and simplify the process. The result: better ergonomics and fewer injuries for production workers, improved production efficiency and quality improvements. AND the computer modeling allows Ford to develop production processes faster, so it can bring new products to market in less time. (Where? What?) Ford is so proud of their sim factory it boasts that productivity master Toyota is curious about the technology. Then again, ToMoCo knows that the map is not the territory. 

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16 Comments on “Ford Shows Off Virtual Production...”

  • avatar

    Virtual is its own reward

  • avatar

    I have to say, at the moment I’d have more confidence in a first year production Ford than a first year production Toyota. I wouldn’t buy a first year model of any vehicle out of general principle, but still, Ford must be doing something right.

  • avatar
    John R

    So they created a virtual world in which the main protagonist from Space Harrier for Sega Genesis can build a an ugly Focus with ten year old underpinnings. Bravo.

    Its the products, stupid!

  • avatar

    Hmmm. Good idea, in theory. However, you aren’t going to be able to figure out that operator B will simply refuse to build the parts as designed and drive $10,000,000 and 4 month delay into the product or that supplier V can’t actually meet the tolerances they signed up to and now several parts do not fit and designs have to be changed, from the virtual production system.

  • avatar

    What’s the big deal? I worked as an engineer for a company that build assembly machines for Ford, Visteon, Chrysler, Aisin, etc.

    I think what they are showing you is exactly what we were using: 3-D CAD programs like Solidworks.

    You build a virtual model of the object being assembled, build tooling to accomplish tasks and tests on that item, and then build a stand for this tooling that fits certain ergonomic requirements and put a virtual person in front of it to demo the person’s reach and posture.

    Big deal. Lots of companies checking those ergo-requirements for a long time. I think the Ford PR guys just needed something to brag about. In this case it appears that they are bragging about something they have been doing for a long time.

    Sort of like a 6 year old American kid bragging about being able to speak English.

    If the domestics want to improve what they do then they ought to slow down the “all new” products and spend more time on making what they already build – and make it better than it is today.

    Saw alot of evidence second hand of a “good enough” mentality in some of the suppliers. Good enough might get a product past initial production tests but might now pass the test of time. That is where quality to determined by the customer. Is the vehicle they paid for every month for 5 years a resepctable product after the payments are done or is it “ugly” and worn out?

    Some suppliers would test a few items in a container. Some of the suppliers to Asian companies would refuse a WHOLE container of parts if a few failed quality checks. That would get a production manager’s attention really fast.

    Do the Detroit guys ever go buy a 10 year old example of their vehicle and take it apart for evaluation? More importantly do they ever take their competition’s 10 year old product apart to see what broke and what lasted?

  • avatar

    This is the only way I would ever buy a ford.
    I would show them a virtual picture of my money …

  • avatar

    If it keeps engineers (and bean counters) from watering down a designer’s handiwork, I’m all for it.

  • avatar

    My favorite part is when they go after the UAW mutants that are all riding around in Crown Vics…

    oops, sorry that’s a different game!

  • avatar

    Actually, I think this is a great idea. I hope they see the limitations though. That avatar won’t really tell them as much as a guy with a brain and years of experience (I hear from an inside source that a few of these people have avoided UAW mind numbing processes and hung around for a while because they like the job and comp package).

    Still, I will wait for the 3d shooter version before I buy.

  • avatar

    So we are in awe when Toyota uses computer simulations in tooling up for their new vehicles, but we laugh when Ford does the same thing…

  • avatar

    “Do the Detroit guys ever go buy a 10 year old example of their vehicle and take it apart for evaluation?”

    Excellent question. Anyone know the answer?

    Warranty claims are a poor measure of MTBF, a key statistic of product quality. My Ford’s transmission blew up at just over 60,000 miles. The warranty expired at 36K, so Ford knew nothing about the transmission’s failure. Nor about minor though annoying glitches that go unreported.

    Could it be that Ford is not interested in such data, because they already know enough for a “pump and dump” business model that’ll kick the can down the road a little longer?

  • avatar

    “Do the Detroit guys ever go buy a 10 year old example of their vehicle and take it apart for evaluation?”

    No, but they do perform long-term durability and disassemble the cars after 100k miles. These are hard miles too – think places like Death Valley and Manitoba.

    Typically they lay the parts out on a table for the suppliers to pick up.

    And then they follow up with… nothing, unless the part obviously failed.

  • avatar

    Do the Detroit guys ever go buy a 10 year old example of their vehicle and take it apart for evaluation?

    Well, that could be done for the wrong reasons. I think it was here on the TTAC where I read that Henry Ford used to comb through the auto salvage yards to see what parts of the Model-T were still in good condition. Then he would demand his engineers downgrade the part. If I recall, he noticed that the steering columns were lasting too long.

    Regarding the idea of a virtual prototype… big deal. Other companies have been doing this for a long time. I remember seeing a project at General Dynamics back in 1985 where they had virtual repair step-throughs for the guys who have to maintain F-16s. You could virtually stick your arm in an access hatch to replace remove and replace a component.

    Well, after work Ford can drop the virtual plant into a FPS map to make some fun gaming environments for disgruntled staff.

  • avatar

    The problem is that when the Detroit guys do take a 100,000 mile test car apart and lay the parts out, most of those parts are replacements of the originals. So, when the engineer looks at, say, an alternator and thinks it’s in great shape after 100,000 miles, he’s really looking at a third replacement alternator with 9,000 miles on it.

  • avatar

    The problem from my point of view with the 100K mile test done under severe conditions is that it does not address things that happen with age. Plastics that get brittle, gskets that shrink or fail, etc.

    This does not necessarily address alot of scenarios that a car endures under normal use for a decade. An example the hot/cold cycling that the drivetrain does.

    Now, I’m an engineer and I have not worked as a durability test engineer so my opinion is worth only .005 cents more than any other guys.

    Anybody able to tells us the difference between the test procedures of an averager quality car like the Ford and that of a “star” preformer like the Accord?

    How would you explain a car that does okay and a car that really lasts and lasts. What is the difference in the way those cars are tested or designed?

  • avatar

    I don’t think a car get to 100K miles with replacement parts and nothing happens. It DOES in fact happens: the part that failed gets returned to the supplier or is analyzed, even if the test hasn’t finished.

    Manufacturers also conduct durability tests on plastics, fabrics, etc… in labs under controlled conditions. As example, every metallic bolt in the car is tested inside a saline chamber for an amount of time at a given temperature to check if the covering resists corrosion…

    I agree with what was previously said here, it’s like a 6 years old kid bragging about he can talk english. Ford, GM, Chrysler and Toyota and many others have been using these technologies for years… is not a big deal. If I am not wrong, Chrysler used it to set up the plant for the 1st Neon.

    And they have too, a mass production plant is very complex, standard operation time has to be reduced to a minimum and every bottleneck should be ruled out when the car enters production.

    And simulating the plant before entering production actually helps improve the assembly process, then assembly quality ;)

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