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  • Ford Forensics: Using Real-Time 2D and 3D X-Ray Machines to Help Ford Vehicles Stay in Great Health

    Ford Forensics: Using Real-Time 2D and 3D X-Ray Machines to Help Ford Vehicles Stay in Great Health
    • Ford uses hospital type X-ray technology as an aid to quality control measures
    • Real-time 2D X-ray allows for non-destructive internal examination of automotive parts in real-time
    • 3D CAT scans give a full picture of automotive parts, with isolation and separation of specific elements possible

    BRENTWOOD, Essex, UK, Mar. 3, 2011 Ford Motor Company continues to pioneer the use of computerised, digital X-ray machines as an integral part of its quality control process. While X-rays are usually the preserve of the medical profession, Ford has been employing them since 2002, having seen the potential benefits early on. Now, having worked with the machine manufacturers to evolve them for Ford's specific automotive needs, these machines are often the first port of call for engineers keen to ensure their automotive parts are as perfectly formed on the inside as they are on the outside.

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    "The technology involved is from hospital technology," said Glenn Austin, Radiographer at Ford's Dunton Materials Laboratory in Essex. "Most of the software, all the demonstration packages, the manuals, solely refer to medical imagery. It didn't have any application as far as they were concerned to engineering."

    Naturally there are challenges involved in using this type of technology in the automotive sector, mainly the difference in density between the skin, bones, flesh and organs of humans with the plastics, rubbers, foams and various different metals used in constructing an automobile. "But it's essentially no different at all to what they do in hospitals," continued Austin. "We're just looking at engines in the way a doctor will look at a patient."

    The real-time 2D X-ray machine is the first part of the inspection, replacing the traditional type of film X-ray, as that process was deemed too time-consuming to be truly effective in the automotive sector. Instead, engineers can now bring a part to the Materials Laboratory and see in real-time the inner workings of it. The operator can zoom in or out of that part, rotate it and manipulate the density of the X-ray to find the smallest imperfection inside.

    It takes a trained eye to spot these imperfections though, much like a doctor looking for a fracture in a bone or a shadow on a lung, but between the radiographer and engineer no problem area will go by unnoticed. This can be particularly useful in assessing prototype parts, from dashboards to alloy wheels and even glass, yet it can also be used to look inside parts that have failed. Crucially this can mean looking inside parts like electronic chips, finding a blown fuse or similar without having to risk the evidence being destroyed by an intrusive inspection process, such as cutting it open to assess it under a microscope.

    The other option available is the 3D CAT (Computer Aided Tomography) scan X-rays, essentially a process of combining 720 2D X-ray slices using specific computer software to create a three-dimensional image. The resulting 3D image can then be rotated and inspected on the computer's monitor, with the ability to even 'fly through' the created image. This ability can be particularly useful in finding problems such as blockages or obstructions in a fuel or air line, as the engineer can get a totally unique view, ultimately seeing it from the viewpoint of the fuel or air.

    Being created by X-rays, the other benefit is that elements of different densities can be isolated and then extracted from the image. "We can move non-metallic elements copper, rubber, plastic and we can explode the component into its various individual parts," said Austin. "We can see voids in a casting for example, if you've got a porosity of air in that component, we can pull the air out of a component and measure the size of the void or the defect."

    By employing these machines, it means that the Materials Laboratory can not only help Ford engineers to develop new parts but they can also ensure that any potential problems are spotted early. "We stop it when it's a little problem before it becomes a major problem, that's the main thing," said Austin.

    "If something gets into production or gets out there and it comes back on us later, then we've pretty much failed in what we do. Certainly vehicles have come on leaps and bounds in reliability over the last several decades, and we like to think we're at the forefront of that and still improving the reliability and quality of Ford vehicles today."

    Thanks to medical technology then, Ford has another powerful tool at its disposal to give its customers added peace of mind. And with the ever-increasing reliability that machines like these help to create, it's less likely than ever for drivers of Ford vehicles to need the help of the emergency services. Prevention, as they say, is better than cure!
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