Wrist Smartphone Speeds Ford Quality Checks

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February 15, 2016

Ford has developed a 'wearable device,' connected to a smartphone app, to help production line workers make faster and more accurate quality checks on new vehicles.

Previously, workers at the automaker's factory in Valencia, Spain, used a paper-based system that involved walking back and forth more than one kilometer daily to access information on desktop PCs. Now, a new Android app means specification and quality checks can be made on the spot using a wrist-worn 'portable quality assurance device'—believed to be an industry first—and the moving assembly line can be stopped immediately as needed.

Linda Cash, who heads manufacturing at Ford of Europe, said, "The ability to simply consult a smartphone screen to check any aspect of a vehicle's quality and specification helps to guarantee highest levels of product quality, and improves work processes and manufacturing efficiency."

The Bluetooth-enabled smartphone recognizes the exact quality inspection requirements for each vehicle that passes along the assembly line. These are displayed on the touchscreen and workers are then able to instantly follow up and approve. The new system has helped to reduce human error by 7% while also making each vehicle check seven seconds quicker. In Valencia alone, where the number of vehicles produced this year is expected to exceed 400,000 units, this represents a substantial time saving that allows additional quality inspections.

In Valencia, Ford builds six models, including the Mondeo and Kuga (Fusion and Escape in North America), with several body styles that multiply into hundreds of different vehicle specifications.

The automaker has closed its Belgian assembly plant and consolidated manufacturing in Germany and Spain. It is completing the final part of a €2.3 billion spend on manufacturing operations in Valencia which Ford said, would make the factory one of the world's most advanced, flexible and productive auto plants.

Ford production manager Ramón García proposed the wearable device connected to a smartphone app to plant management after observing his colleagues and family increasingly using smartphone and tablet apps on lunch breaks and at home. Ford, in partnership with local software company Visia Solutions, developed the Android-powered app.

García said: "This technology helps us to better handle the increased complexity of more vehicles and more vehicle specifications being produced on a single assembly line.

"The initial feedback from production line workers has been very positive and we are actively looking at other areas in the process where we could deploy digital innovation and further increase quality and efficiency."

Following a successful pilot project, Ford is now considering the devices for other plants.

The automaker this year opened the Automotive Wearables Experience lab at its Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn which works to integrate wearable devices and vehicles to enable driver-assist technologies to be more aware of the driver behind the wheel—particularly when that driver is stressed or sleepy.

Valencia, and other Ford factories in Europe, has introduced an advanced Wi-Fi network for the flexible installation to vehicles on production lines of the software required for voice activated connectivity system SYNC 2. This enables assembly workers to download vehicle-specific language and navigation packs as required for each vehicle.

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