Last December, Ford unveiled its Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Mich., to the public, a repurposed 100,000-square-foot facility that cost $45 million. The nondescript white brick exterior in the Detroit suburb belies what's going on inside: practically every new advanced technology critical to manufacturing's future all cohabitating in the same open space. And though the high-tech machines in the immaculate Detroit-area lab look like they could be used to make Robocop, they are merging to make the next wave of Ford vehicles, such as the superpowered Shelby GT500 Mustang.
To the right there's about two dozen 3D printers, ranging from cutting-edge Carbon's M2 to the tried-and-true 3D Systems SLA 7000.
To the left, there's an array of automated workcells populated by various collaborative robots inspecting engines and chassis.
And toward the back, there's an open area flanked by giant flat screens displaying a virtual production line. A few HTC Vive Pro virtual reality headsets grant access to and dominion over the pixelated factory. There are even three different exoskeletons on the table at what doubles as an ergonomics lab.
On their own, these technologies have demonstrated their value to manufacturing at a steadily increasing rate, though none have been mainstreamed enough that anyone can yet estimate their true maximum potential, or if an upper limit even exists.
What's significant about this new center is that all 100 or so engineering experts have the latest tools to experiment with and create viable applications. And when successful, they can deploy them to the field and the hope is always to scale. It's the mass production of innovation, something with which Ford is very familiar.
“More than 100 years ago, Ford created the moving assembly line, forever changing how vehicles would be mass produced,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of Automotive. “Today, we are reinventing tomorrow’s assembly line – tapping technologies once only dreamed of on the big screen – to increase our manufacturing efficiency and quality.”
For a look at Ford's tech strategies, start the slideshow.