The new state-of-the-art facility would contribute towards increasing overall quality and help cut costs in the real-world by utilising computer simulations of production processes.
Though an incredibly complex undertaking, Simulations Engineer for Ford of Spain, José Terrades stated that the project has already begun, with the company’s existing technological innovations greatly helping to hasten progress:
“We have already started work on our virtual factory project, so that we won’t have to go to the real assembly line to conduct tests or research possible plant upgrades.
“Virtual factories will enable Ford to preview and optimise the assembly of future models at any of our plants anywhere in the world. With the advanced simulations and virtual environments we already have at our disposal, we believe this is something Ford can achieve in the very near future.”
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This won’t be the first time Ford has pioneered hi-tech solutions, as 15 years ago it became the first auto-manufacturer to utilise computer simulations to plan vehicle assembly at facilities worldwide. A move which has gone on to become a fundamental part of Ford’s production processes, as Nick Newman, Implementation Manager for Ford of Germany, explained:
“The final assembly process simulations we use today allow us to much more than simply plan our build sequences. We can piece together complete cars in a virtual environment like huge jigsaws and assess the construction down to the finest detail, and we plan to do even more in the future.”
The 3D virtual assembly environments are constructed by scanning real-world manufacturing facilities with the latest camera technology, with Ford’s Valencia plant taking the development lead. Once constructed, custom projectors and polarising, motion-sensing glasses are used to create interactive 3D virtual reality manufacturing scenarios.
The actions of real-life line workers are simulated inside these environments to not only help ergonomic experts eliminate strenuous postures, but to optimise each aspect of the assembly process and reduce the need to create physical prototypes of vehicles or tooling for evaluation.
The virtual simulations even go so far as to allow the interiors of Ford development models to be evaluated in terms of visibility, instrument reach, ergonomics and spaciousness before building a real-world prototype, allowing designers to “take a seat and truly experience the virtual vehicle.”