3D mapping is for more than Google, says Ford Truck

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The first that most civilians, i.e.those not totally living in the digital world, heard about digital mapping was with reference to Google Earth and its world-wide effort to be everywhere, all the time.  Now, Ford is using similar technology to create tougher, quieter F-Series trucks.

Believed to be the first application in the auto industry, according to Ford, the technology is being used to better analyze rear axle parts during assembly for increased durability and a quieter ride.

Using a photogrammetric pattern reader (PPR), a pair of digital cameras combine photos of the axle gears into a series of 3D pictures that are compared against an ideal computer model of the gears.  When they don’t meet spec, they are discarded.

This adds a new and advanced step to the inspection process, “…allowing us to conduct our inspections faster, and at a level of detail the human eye just cannot discern,” said David Gravel, in engineer in Ford’s advanced manufacturing group.

Now in use at Ford’s Sterling Axle Plant in Sterling Heights, MI, PPR stations will be rolled out in Ford plants worldwide.

The process was developed with Madison, WI-based Automated Vision and Livonia, MI-based ATM Automation, Ford’s system uses line scan cameras and infrared lights to turn a series of 2-dimensional image slices (think medical scanner) into a single three-dimensional image for analysis.

In the words of the engineers: “The complex curvature of the hypoid gears used on the rear axle ring and pinion makes it impossible to see both sides of each gear tooth in a single image.  The two cameras used on the inspection rig capture 9,000 1024×1-pixel images from each side of every gear tooth in a matter of  seconds as the gears rotate.”

“The processing system contains a digital model of the gear profile that is then used to stitch these images together and flatten out the gear teeth in to a single 3D panoramic image that can easily be scanned to ensure the teeth are meshing correctly.”

Any parts that show anomalies that could cause noise or durability issues are scrapped.  On average, only two to five parts per 1,000 fall outside the tolerances.

I suspect that this technology has relevance to almost any moving parts on the engine, power train and elsewhere on a truck and have asked to be told when it proliferates throughout F-Series trucks.

It’s impressive to see practical process employing the latest in digital technology.  If you want to know more, don’t look to me.  Send a letter to the guys on The Big Bang Theory.  I’ll bet they can put a new spin on it.:


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