Redford, Michigan, is the new home of Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, focused on improving the company’s approach to building cars and trucks. The $45 million complex houses 100 experts working on integration strategies for various cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, including 3D printing, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), robotics, and digital manufacturing.
The Advanced Manufacturing Center contains 23 3D printing machines, and Ford is working with 10 3D manufacturing companies to develop applications with a range of different materials, from nylon powder to sand to carbon. One application currently under development could save the company more than $2 million.
The soon-to-be-released Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 features two 3D-printed brake parts, while the F-150 Raptor includes a 3D-printed interior part. The company believes that as this technology becomes more economical, the use of such parts will become more and more prevalent. Assembly line workers at the Michigan Assembly Plant, where Ford builds the Ranger pickup, use five different 3D-printed tools that played a critical role in the launch of the Ranger. In fact, the company says that these tools knocked off weeks from an already tight timeline.
Ford is also banking on augmented and virtual reality to help in simulating and designing assembly lines. By donning specialized gaming equipment, engineers can configure a virtual reality production line without leaving the Center, allowing engineers to identify potentially unsafe processes and fine-tune workflows long before an assembly line is put into play.
AR and VR can also allow manufacturing teams to work collaboratively in facilities around the world, meaning employees on different continents could work in the same virtual space, at the same time.
Finally, the new facility will allow the company to optimize the use of collaborative robots. Ford has more than 100 of them in 24 plants globally. For instance, at the Livonia Transmission Plant in Michigan, a co-bot performs a job that was so ergonomically difficult for employees that they could only perform that task for one hour at a time. The co-bot was a welcome addition to the production line.
These co-bots also help the automaker reduce costs by eliminating the safety cages required by larger robots. Utilizing co-bots in the Advanced Manufacturing Center will allow Ford to identify and address potential production issues before the co-bots are actually installed in plants.
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