John Gilbert Staff Editor
November 30, 2015

Does it, or doesn’t it take the trained eye of a true automobile enthusiast to recognize the quality of a vehicle’s fit and finish? There was a time when American cars were world famous for massive amounts of chrome-plated appendages, embellishments and polished stainless steel trim lathering each side. Unfortunately with that fame came a reputation for poor fit and finish. Things didn’t fit right, emblems were on crooked, door and fender gaps were inconsistent and in spite of a pallet full of stunning colors, the paint jobs had dirt, runs, mottling, waves, and all the orange peel of a brand-new kitchen stove.

It took a long time for American automobile manufacturers to get their act together and produce a vehicle that could go toe-to-toe with the world on a cosmetic basis.

In the last few years someone at the Ford Motor Company has really been paying attention and doing their homework. Take one look at the fit and finish of a new Ford and you’ll acknowledge the standard of quality for fit and finish has never been so high. In fact Ford has set the bar for all-the world to obtain. In 2013 Ford announced a method of identifying dirt and flaws in the final finish that are corrected before delivering the vehicle.

Tom Dougan, project manager, global paint applications at Ford, explained how the system works. “Industry-first dirt detection technology uses high-resolution cameras to generate a 3D model so Ford can identify and eliminate dirt particles smaller than a grain of salt on vehicle paint surfaces.”

Ford’s dirt detection technology takes microscopic scans of each painted vehicle surface, and then cues final assembly operators to address repairs where necessary. In the past, paint and surface inspections were based on human-eye examination.

The 3D imaging system applies varying degrees and angles of light while scoping the paint surface of vehicle bodies to identify dirt in paint and other irregular paint conditions. High-resolution images – 3,150 images are captured in 15 seconds for every vehicle made – are stitched together for a full 3D image that is digitally compared to a perfect computer model.

Dougan said, “This is one of the most exciting integrations of optical science and digital technology in the automotive industry. By combining innovations in vision technology, processing speed and software, Ford continues to invent new technologies that give our customers better paint quality and surpass competitor offerings.”

The Flat Rock, Michigan, plant where Mustangs are built has had 3D dirt detection technology in place since 2014.