Ford Plant Uses New Smartphone App to Improve Efficiency

Ford Motor Co. has developed a wearable device that connects to a smartphone app and enables production line workers to make faster and more accurate quality checks on new vehicles.

Previously, workers at Ford's manufacturing facility 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.

"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," said Linda Cash, vice president of manufacturing for Ford of Europe.

The Bluetooth-enabled device recognizes the exact quality inspection requirements for each vehicle that passes along the assembly line. These are displayed on the device's touchscreen. Team members are then able to instantly follow up and approve. The new system has helped to reduce human error by 7 percent while 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 savings.

Ford recently announced it is completing the final part of a $2.6-billion investment in manufacturing operations in Valencia, transforming the facility into one of the world's most advanced and productive auto plants.

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

"Smart mobile technology increasingly helps my colleagues and my family organize our personal lives," García said. "It struck me that we could apply similar technology to the workplace and improve the automotive production process. 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 looking into rolling out the portable quality assurance devices to other plants.

As more consumers embrace wearable devices, such as smart watches, glasses and fitness trackers, Ford has opened the Automotive Wearables Experience lab at its Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan. Here, scientists and engineers are working 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.

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