• Jul 2nd 2010 at 12:58PM
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2011 Ford Explorer goes through air leak testing – Click above to watch video after the jump

Today's vehicles are quieter than ever, and while that's partially thanks to new computer modeling techniques, it also has plenty to do with repeated testing of each and every vehicle seal. For every door, hatch and window, some engineer has slaved tirelessly to make sure everything fits together just as it should. Ford has been kind enough to roll out a couple of videos showing that exact process on its forthcoming 2011 Explorer. The company uses some pretty high-tech equipment to take accurate measurements on panel gaps and detect potential air leak issues before the vehicle even goes through paint.

Watching the engineers play with their toys is entertaining and all, but we were most interested in what engineer Matt Machala had to say about just how much more stringent Ford's standards have grown over the past three years. It may mean boatloads of extra work for the company's employees, but from what we've seen of their product of late, there's no denying the impact those hours have had on the company's finished product. Hit the jump to see the videos for yourself. Hot tip, Sam!

[Source: Ford]

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* Ford scrutinized every inch of the new 2011 Ford Explorer throughout the development – even when the design existed only on a computer screen – to ensure the vehicle delivered top-notch craftsmanship
* Ford utilized specialized high-tech equipment, from laser wands to aluminum bodies, to ensure the Explorer met the toughest craftsmanship standards
* The all-new Explorer had a devoted team assigned to ensure it had top-notch craftsmanship

DEARBORN, Mich., July 1, 2010 – When designers at Ford's product development center sat down to sketch out the new 2011 Explorer, the team had a clear objective: Deliver a sleek, modern package, while maintaining the rugged looks of an SUV. But no matter what direction they took the new design, there was one thing that could not be compromised: craftsmanship.

"Every detail of the new Explorer was scrutinized," said Peter Bejin, Ford craftsmanship supervisor. "Craftsmanship – the look, the style, the feel of a well-built vehicle – is a critical step in the design process. It is the key differentiator in a competitive and crowded marketplace."

It's so important that Ford formed a dedicated group of product designers and engineers to focus solely on craftsmanship. The Global Craftsmanship team, based both in Europe and the U.S., worked to ensure that every part, seam, button and dial is perfectly matched so that the vehicle is well crafted, aesthetically pleasing and functional.

The new Explorer's craftsmanship invites its customers to perceive the vehicle with their senses. A consistent and harmonious combination of visual, audible and olfactory characteristics must exceed customers' expectations.

"It's like an orchestra, where many instruments make up the harmonious whole, the precise and pleasant sensory elements in a Ford vehicle work together to create a holistic balance," said Bejin. "This was our mission statement as we developed the new Explorer."

The craftsmanship process begins very early in the vehicle's development. Designers start upstream by looking at all their data in the virtual world on a computer screen long before the vehicle is seen in its full form as a prototype.

Closing the gap

When the vehicle body is first built in a prototype phase, quality tests begin. On the Explorer, engineers used a highly accurate laser wand to check the placement and measurement of more than 500 connection points on the vehicle body to make sure the full physical design of the body matched the virtual computer version.

"In the prototype phase, we examine and scrutinize every touch point on the vehicle that our engineers have deemed important to quality," said Matt Machala, tooling/dimensional control engineer. "This is so we can trace any quality issues before the vehicle leaves the body shop."

Machala and his crew also measure the pressure and sealings on the vehicle doors, making sure they open and shut firmly and correctly. They measure the margin of fit of the body panels, assuring that the seams and gaps where parts come together are no wider than 3.7 millimeters or about the width of two stacked nickels, Machala said.

"That's the kind of thing that customers really notice," Machala explained. "It's not just about aesthetics; they want a vehicle that's put together well."

No air leaks means a quiet ride

A key aspect of perceived quality is sound, or the absence of sound. A noisy interior cabin caused by wind or other external disturbances upset the sense of sound. Ford has gone to great lengths to minimize wind noise by using high-tech devices that can pinpoint noise from wind and other sources entering the vehicle.

One unsung hero in this process is an air leakage test performed at different stages throughout the production of the new Explorer. Eliminating air leaks begins with virtual design checks on the computer and then continues with validation tests after the body has been built.

To test for air leaks, engineers must first remove air from the vehicle's interior cabin. A test vehicle is randomly selected and pulled from the assembly line after it's been through the paint process, but before its trim parts are added. All of the openings to the interior cabin of the vehicle are sealed with sheets of Plexiglas that match the shape of the opening to create an airtight seal. A vacuum-like machine with hose attached is secured to a hole in the Plexiglas through which air is either suctioned from or pumped in to the cabin, depending on the test.

Engineers then crawl through the cabin using a stethoscope type listening device to check for air coming in or out of the vehicle's cabin. They also use a mini-camera on a cord that enables them to look into spaces otherwise inaccessible. This process is repeated once more once the vehicle is fully assembled.
"Reducing air leaks helps us deliver that quiet ride that today's customers expect and deserve," said Jason Griffin, air leakage noise, vibration and harshness engineer. "So we use our ears and our tools, and we look and we listen to make sure we have a tightly sealed passenger cabin."

Taking the process a step further, the team even has developed an innovative new weapon in its arsenal against air leakage –thermal camera photography teamed with heated air, which pinpoints the exact location the air leak is occurring.

"Typically, we would pump air into or evacuate air out of the vehicle, and then listen for air coming in or out, and that's how we detect the issues," Griffin said. "But recently we devised a method where we can heat the air, so when we blow air out of the cabin with our vacuum, a hot spot appears on the camera pointing to the leak in the sheet metal."

Engineers also perform air leakage tests on vehicles in their finished state with all the interior, exterior, chassis and powertrain components installed to further ensure a quiet ride for customers.

Perfect parts, perfect body

The craftsmanship checks continue as Explorer moves forward in its development process. At Chicago Assembly Plant, where Explorer soon will roll off the assembly lines, operators and product engineers work together with suppliers to conduct a test known as the trim coordination build.

To ensure that all of the new Explorer's trim parts from suppliers match Ford's specifications, engineers use a dimensionally-correct aluminum version of the vehicle, called an environmental cube or "e-cube," to attach all of the trim parts onto like a puzzle. Inside and out, each individual part that makes up the style, shape and look of the new Explorer is attached to the e-cube such as the grille front, bumper fascias, instrument panel and other parts are hung onto the test sheet metal to make sure each fits perfectly.

"What we're doing is making sure that all of our trim parts fit correctly early in the process," Bejin said. "So you have your fascia, your scuff plates, your headliner, your seats, your carpet – everything. You can build the whole thing out like a life-sized puzzle. We're making sure that each part is what it needs to be dimensionally on a mock model before it's considered a good part for assembly on the real product."

That means it fits well – to within a razor-thin 1/10th of a millimeter of the computer design – ensuring tight-fitting trim parts with no unsightly gaps.

"We want all the fits on our vehicle to be world-class," Bejin said. "We want our craftsmanship to be a part of our showroom competitiveness."

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Holy cow, look at that guy applying sealant by hand... A bit more high-tech at the Jaguar factory... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjUTnCowzNQ
      • 5 Years Ago
      The Explorer is an early 2012 model not a 2011.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I would imagine they are all doing the same if not they will follow suit and then the others will innovate and Ford will follow. Nothing new here. Go GM. You never failed me or all my family living and or passed on. Going back to the 1920's.
      • 5 Years Ago
      PS... Why would FORD BLAME firestone for their blowouts when they knew very well that it was their p*ss poor quality build?? The new Ford ExploDer has Michelin tires on it.. LOL Yet the new Tahoe/Yukons have Bridgestone/Firestones and i havent heard a word about them blowing out.. And stop dogging Toyota.. Even with their MILLIONS of recalled cars.. FORD STILL HOLDS THE TITLE BY FAR FOR THE MOST RECALLED VEHICLES.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Glad to see they have great quality control. Hopefully surpass the other manufactures eventually.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Are the videos just for the initial process because the 2011 Explorer is new and brings new manufacturing processes, or does this happen every time an Explorer rolls down the line?
      • 5 Years Ago
      These spy and partial photo "leaks" are totally beat! I almost don't like the Explorer now based on what I've seen. How is this smart advertising??????
        • 5 Years Ago
        I guess I'd add that to the "what makes us different" column.

        Rockin' it and sockin' it in 2010!!!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Judging by that name you gotta be a GM fan...or at least a Caddy fan. You probably think the endless parading of the Camaro was amazing. How many years did they show it off for? Or how about the Caddy CTS Coupe?

        I don't know what everyone is all up in arms about. It's not like Ford is showing a new quarter panel pic everyday....
        • 5 Years Ago
        I dont know about you but I never start to like or dislike cars based on advertising. If I did, I probably wouldnt care enough to read this blog.
        • 5 Years Ago
        1) it makes nutheads go shopping elsewhere, in my book that is smart advertising indeed
        2) this is not a leakage nor is it spy-anything
      • 5 Years Ago
      My wife is still getting great service from her 1998 Explorer EB. The doors closing sound like a showroom car, the V8 engine runs great, and she gets nearly 21 MPG on the highway. Of course it hasn't yet hit 173,000 miles either. That'll happen by the end og this July.
      I'm guessing it will be either the last current Explorer EB or the new 2012 that will meet her standards, set by this one.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Wow! That's pretty cool! I'm loving Ford more and more every day!
      • 5 Years Ago
      I am 100% certain my next vehicle will be a Ford. Every time I see something new about them I grow to love this company more and more. Too bad all of them [the big three] didn't start doing this kind of quality control 10 years ago.

      Kudos ford... now just make a small, light, sub Mustang sports coupe with RWD and IRS. Compete with the Toyota FT-86 (that may never see the light of day at this rate)... and redo the Ranger.
        • 5 Years Ago
        If I had to guess, I'd say that they don't have the resources to develop SVT versions of the Fiesta and/or Focus in addition to a brand new RWD coupe. Personally, I'd rather have them concentrate on the Focus SVT. Since I can't afford a 3rd car for the two of us, I'd gladly compromise by having a 5-door hatch that can do both stuff hauling and hooligan duty.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @dahmmond how do you know that ?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Oh Yeah... Nevermind, just bring an AWD Focus RS our way, that will make me VERY happy. An R32 competitor.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @nardvark...i am happy to report you are 100% wrong....an eco boost Fiesta has already been developed, one with performance aspirations and another with a 3 cyl eco with economy aspirations......the same scenarios will pass to the 2012 focus....think 180hp RS Fiesta, 250hp Rs Focus....
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm impressed that they are spending so much time and effort on quality improvements, but Ford really has to show us the finished product already. It's getting to be too much.

      I think this is going to be a great looking vehicle, but come on already!
      Steven R. Russell
      • 5 Years Ago
      As a former 2004 Ford Explorer XLT "owner", which was repossessed by "SunTrust" Bank, which I learned I could not trust at all, I am impressed with these videos of how Ford is doing more than ever on the 2011 Ford Explorer.

      My 2004 Explorer was great, and I am impressed with the engineers in these videos, their skill, knowledge, and ability, and the thechnology and equipment they use.

      As Dr. Peter Marshall, Jr. said in his "Deeper Life Crusade" at our Church in West Virginia in the summer of '85, "The Nation God has so Blessed".
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Steven R. Russell
        uh repossessed? You weren't making payments? Sound like a fine citizen to me.

        And then spewing some evangelical talk from a megachurch :rofl:
      • 5 Years Ago
      I would be more impressed if all of these "test" were done on the manufacturing side.

      These videos are showing a development test procedure. Nothing else. Other manufacturers do this as well during the development phase and testing phase.

      Hardly anyone do these tests once the manufacturing team gets the green light. Due to the prohibitive costs and time.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'll bet $100, that the particular 2011 Explorer that you will have bought will not have gone through these "exhaustive" tests. Only the test mule that in the development phase receives this much attention.
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