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Ford introduces the gremlin test

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Ford employees are tasked with secretly planting wrong and faulty parts onto the assembly line as part of a process to ensure all new vehicles built at a plant in Valencia meet rigorous quality standards

Special technician Xabier Garciandia’s working day involves literally trying to put a spanner into the works of one of the world’s most advanced auto plants – by making sure wrong parts and faulty components are secretly placed on the assembly line.

Ford’s industry-first Vision System is designed to photograph, check and track every single part of each of the 400 000 cars and vans assembled each year at the company’s plant in Valencia, Spain – and each of the 330 000 engines that are built there.

According to a Garciandia, gremlin tests are an innovative way of ensuring that each process works correctly. “The Vision System is crucial to ensuring every single part of each vehicle is just right,” he says. “The gremlin test means we can ensure the system is working perfectly. It is a game with a very serious point – we are making incorrect parts harder to spot all the time.”

Ford produces more models at its state-of-the-art mega-plant than it does anywhere else in Europe, including passenger cars, SUVs, MPVs and light commercial vans. On the engine side, the plant produces 2,0-litre and 2,3-litre Ecoboost units.

The Vision System captures more than a billion digital photographs every 14 days, generating a composite image – comprised of 3 150 different pictures – of each part. The composite is used as the master against which each new photographed part is compared, allowing engineers to pick out discrepancies on the spot.

Faulty engine parts, wrong steering wheels, and even incorrect dashboards have been sent down the line, with the test now extended to all 34 stages of assembly. “The way in which we all use digital cameras has totally changed the way we record our daily way of life, and is now transforming the way we build engines and cars,” says Garciandia.

“But we also have to test the tests, and we are doing this in a way that is very simple, but which we believe is unique in the auto industry.”

Ford has introduced a range of rigorous and in some instances unusual quality processes at the plant, where a new vehicle rolls off the production line every 40 seconds. These include:

  • Ultra-sensitive microphones that are used to register engine connectors;
  • Engine listeners to ensure that each new Focus RS is running flawlessly;
  • Ostrich feathers that are used to dust models before painting to enhance quality;
  • An industry-first digital camera system that identifies defects in paint work;
  • Vehicle audio testing that reflects customer use of audio streamed via Bluetooth;
  • A virtual rolling road test to evaluate advanced driver technologies.


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