Why Ford wants ‘gremlins’ to throw spanner in works at mega car plant in name of quality

The Ford Vision System photographs, checks and tracks every part.

The Ford Vision System photographs, checks and tracks every part. - Credit: Ford

Ford's mega plant in Valencia, Spain, produces a new vehicle every 40 seconds with the help of special 'gremlin tests' are being used as part of hi-tech, industry first quality-control measures.

Ford employees are being tasked to throw 'a spanner in the works' with specially-develolped 'gremlin tests' as part of a hi-tech, industry-first programme to enhance quality.

Workers are tasked with secretly planting wrong and faulty parts on to the assembly line, including incomplete steering wheels and faulty engine components, as part of a process to ensure all new vehicles built at the mega plant at Valencia in Spain meet Ford's rigorous quality standards.

Xabier Garciandia's working day involves literally trying to put a spanner into the works of one of the world's most advanced auto plants – by making sure wrong parts and faulty components are secretly placed on the assembly line.

Ford's industry-first Vision System photographs, checks and tracks every single part of each of the 400,000 cars and vans assembled, and 330,000 engines built at the Ford Valencia plant each year.

The gremlin tests are an innovative way of ensuring that each process is working correctly.

'The Vision System is crucial to ensuring every single part of each vehicle is just right,' said Senor Garciandia, technical specialist, Valencia Engine Vision System, Ford of Europe. 'The gremlin test means we can ensure the system is working perfectly. It is a game with a very serious point – we are making them harder to spot all the time.'

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Ford produces more models at the state-of-the-art Ford mega-plant in Valencia than anywhere else in Europe, including Kuga, Kuga Vignale, Mondeo, Mondeo Vignale, Galaxy, S-Max and Transit Connect and Tourneo Connect. Ford's 2.0-litre and 2.3-litre Ecoboost engines are also built at the plant.

The Vision System captures more than a billion photos every 14 days, comparable to the number of photos uploaded to Instagram in Europe. This also helps to generate a composite image – consisting of 3,150 digital photographs – that highlights any discrepancies to engineers on the spot.

Faulty engine parts, wrong steering wheels and even incorrect dashboards have been sent down the line, with the gremlin test now extended to all 34 stages of assembly.

'The way in which we all use digital cameras has totally changed the way we record our daily way of life, and is now transforming the way we build engines and cars,' he said. 'But we also have to test the tests, and we are doing this in a way that is very simple, but which we believe is unique in the auto industry.'

Ford has introduced a range of rigorous and, in some instances, unusual quality processes at the plant where a new vehicle rolls off the production line every 40 seconds.

These include:

Ultra-sensitive microphones used to register engine connectors.

'Engine listeners' ensure each new Ford Focus RS is running flawlessly.

Ostrich feathers that are used to dust models before painting to enhance paint quality.

An industry-first digital camera system that identifies vehicle bodyshell paint defects.

Vehicle audio testing that reflects customer use of audio streamed via Bluetooth.

A virtual rolling road test to evaluate advanced driver technologies.