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A ping-pong ball has a volume of about 2 cubic inches, and a 2013 Ford Escape holds nearly 60,000. Why is this important? Ford uses the balls to measure vehicle interior capacity for both its own cars and competitors'. Of course, there are traditional measuring tools that you'd expect Ford engineers and designers to use, but it's been hard to do anything but estimate the amount of space in oddly-shaped locations like glove compartments and door pockets.

Ford says ping-pong balls deliver better accuracy than more tedious measurement techniques, and its engineers have also figured out how to measure the volume of the space between balls. So while an image like the one you see above might initially look like the work of pranksters, it's just Ford's engineers getting better measuremenents than ever before. Keep reading for the full scoop. Show full PR text

How Does Ford Measure Space in the All-New Ford Escape? Pingpong Balls

• Ford uses pingpong balls to measure certain interior cargo spaces in the all-new Ford Escape and competitive vehicles
• Oddly shaped spaces in the center consoles and glove boxes of Ford vehicles spurred idea for using pingpong balls as a standard unit of measure
• Clever spots, including an umbrella holder, offer unique spaces to stay organized in the all-new Ford Escape


DEARBORN, Mich., July 18, 2012 – How many pingpong balls fit into an all-new Ford Escape? Approximately 56,778.

Ford has a unique way of measuring interior storage spaces inside its vehicles and those of its competitors, and it's not with a ruler; it's with pingpong balls.

"It probably doesn't seem like it, but pingpong balls are more accurate than using a tape measure to get the volume of odd-shaped spaces like a glove compartment," said Eric Jackson, Vehicle Architecture supervisor.

Many years ago, Ford would estimate the capacity of glove boxes, center consoles and other small areas of a vehicle using a measuring tape, and taking length times width times height to get the volume. But with all the angles, curves and other odd shapes in a vehicle, engineers and designers were not satisfied with the accuracy or consistency of this method. According to Jackson, a Ford engineer then came up with the idea of using pingpong balls to measure spaces.

"It was just a quirky idea that came out of a team brainstorm," says Jackson. "But we then did some studies using pingpong balls and found capacities were more consistently measured."

Jackson's team found that if two people measure the same console with a measuring tape, they often will come up with different results due to the wide variations of the method. However, if two people use pingpong balls to measure volume, they are more likely to get the same answer.

The precise way volume is measured with pingpong balls is fairly simple, explains Sejal Shreffler, Ford Accommodation and Usage engineer. Ford engineers have developed a cubic measurement for each pingpong ball that accounts for the open space in between a stack of balls. They then use that measurement and account for the number of pingpong balls in the storage space to determine total volume of a space.

Engineers also use computer-aided design (CAD) renderings to compute volume.

Laser scanning
Shreffler and her team also use a laser scanner device that allows Ford to get surface data in CAD on competitors. Shreffler can get a 3D digital representation of the visible surfaces on the vehicle. The surface data are then digitized and the space is evaluated in CAD. This technology can be used to measure different areas of the vehicle to compute anything from cargo volumes to the dashboard console or glove box volumes.

"Our team scans dozens of consumer goods from iPads to mountain bikes and wheelchairs to ensure these objects not only fit into our vehicles, but that there is a proper place for them," said Shreffler.

Clever spaces
The all-new Ford Escape features several places to store specific items in the interior including umbrellas, bottles and cell phones.

Unique storage spots include:
• Overhead visors with ticket holders for parking or toll tickets
• Hidden storage bin under the second-row floor
• Small umbrella holders on both driver and passenger seat trim panels
• A card holder below and a stowage bin above the center of the instrument panel
• Center console space to hold a one-liter bottle, MP3 player or CDs
• Convenient USB ports in the center console and 110-volt inverter located at the back of the floor console for easy plug-in of laptops, cell phone chargers or other electronics
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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 55 Comments
      fun4owens
      • 2 Years Ago
      Actually this is a clever technique to make comparable measurements. While Ford could use CAD to compute the volume of the interiors of their products, they probably don't have access to to the same kind of information on the products of their competitors. So, filling the cabins, trunks, or compartments of their products with some light weight spheres and then removing them and determining their net volume should give them a reasonable approximation of volume. The only decision, then, is what size sphere to use for an optimum tradeoff of precision and practicality. For example, pea-sized spheres would finer precision at the cost of greater effort to pack them and some ambiguity because they are small enough to go into unusable spaces, while tennis balls would be easier to load and unload but would give less precise indication of volume. Thus, ping-pong balls, being an in between size probably give the best trade-off of precision and ease of use and have the advantages of low cost, light weight, somewhat rigid, and having a smooth surface that enables them to easily settle in to a "hexagonal close-packed" (term from material science) arrangement for comparable results, are perhaps the best material for this volume determining problem. Since this technique can be used with both their products and those of competitors it gives them the easiest way to determine the comparable volumes of their products and those of the competitors.
      Dwight Bynum Jr.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'm assuming the ping pong balls only apply to measuring their competitors. I can assure you they know the EXACT dimensions and volume of every single part of their own vehicles before the tools to produce said parts are even made. You can EASILY find those dimensions during the computer modeling phase.
        ambacengineering
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dwight Bynum Jr.
        You are assuming that Ford has the CAD model of every component in every car they build. If they are buying the items from a supplier who also did the design work, Ford may not know all the dimensional details.
      BC
      • 2 Years Ago
      This method isn't new, it's been used in the industry dating back at least to the early 1970s when I read about it in one of the magazines (although golf balls were cited, not ping pong balls), and probably earlier. Today, published trunk/cargo volumes in particular should be measured using SAE J1100.
      Egon
      • 2 Years Ago
      I always thought that Ford had a lot of balls to pull off some of their most recent designs.
      That Guy
      • 2 Years Ago
      Wow...Ford releases this feel good, sappy, nobody really cares press release to try and clean some of the egg off their face because of all the recalls surrounding the Focus Wagon (I mean Escape) and this is what they come up with? Ford is a joke.
        Todd Holley
        • 2 Years Ago
        @That Guy
        Yes they are a joke. They are the only American auto maker that didnt need the Governments help. If they are a joke what does that make Chrysler and GM?
          Matt Griffin
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Todd Holley
          I know you think you made a point here, but GM and Chrysler are no better, with or without government help.
      breakfastburrito
      • 2 Years Ago
      Sooo, hitting the Volumetric Dimension Analysis button in Solidworks, is "more tedious" than counting 60,000 ping pong balls? Ford probably has an 80 year old ping-pong spacing specialist on Union wages, counting balls at $60/hr. Count my balls Ford! got 2 right here.
        Todd Holley
        • 2 Years Ago
        @breakfastburrito
        You do know they might not have access to some competitors CAD files right?
        Willy Thompson
        • 2 Years Ago
        @breakfastburrito
        i think some ones slow minded son or nephew works in a ping pong factory and that person wants to keep him employed lol
        Rocketboy_X
        • 2 Years Ago
        @breakfastburrito
        Ah yes, make so much more sense to take complete measurements of everything, pop them into a 3-d modeling program, and hit a button. (PS, if you think they are counting 60,000 ping pong balls going a-one, a-two, you are really as dumb as you sound)
      Keldon
      • 2 Years Ago
      Careful Ford...pingpong balls are highly flammable.
        Keldon
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Keldon
        Ahahaahahaaaaaa....I crack myself up. But once again i see there is an abundance of FFB's on here that can't appreciate a good crack b/c they are so far up Ford's ass.
          Rocketboy_X
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Keldon
          No, it's just that you are an idiot.
          Keldon
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Keldon
          @Rocketboy...."You don't have to be "far up Ford's ass" to think your 'joke' is stupid. You do have to be an idiot to think so." Better read your post again...slowly. Let me know if you need help understanding this, idiot.
          Rocketboy_X
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Keldon
          You don't have to be "far up Ford's ass" to think your 'joke' is stupid. You do have to be an idiot to think so.
      Andre Neves
      • 2 Years Ago
      "Excuse me, can I put my balls in your cup holder?"
      dohc73
      • 2 Years Ago
      This evidently does not translate into spacious-feeling interior design though as Ford has some of the most claustrophobic feeling interiors in the industry, not to mention bottom of the class backseat room in their compact and sub-compacts.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @dohc73
        [blocked]
      jj360
      • 2 Years Ago
      So Ford engineers are not capable of measuring the interiors volume using it's measurements? It seems this would lead to the smaller spaces having sizes that best suited ping-pong balls rather than it's occupants and their needs.
        Pope Digg VIII
        • 2 Years Ago
        @jj360
        ...you didn't read the article did you?
        theweegeean
        • 2 Years Ago
        @jj360
        I don't think this is what they're saying. It sounds to me like Ford still uses all the more traditional methods of measurement in their cars, such as figuring out headroom from seat to ceiling, shoulder room, leg room, cargo width, etc., but uses these balls as a quicker measuring tool to determine strangely-shaped spaces, which are time-consuming to measure. And, like you said, just figuring out how large the spaces are in terms of simple numbers is kind of useless, since considerations like "how much luggage can I fit in this compartment?" are more important. Sometimes it's better to save time fudging specs like this for the advertisers so they can say "Ford xyz has larger cupholders than Hyundai abc etc.", and spend your time in other places that really are important, like figuring out how to make those spaces more useful. I know from experience that trying to measure a space's volume with a lot of complicated dimensions using only geometry can be extremely time-consuming and tedious. Better to get a simple estimation by pouring ping-pong balls into a space (which they could literally use any idiot to do) then waste your engineers' time finding the precise volume of a cupholder in cubic inches.
        jwang158
        • 2 Years Ago
        @jj360
        I'm sure they can. As theweegeean said, it's just more tedious than putting in a few ping pong balls. For this relatively simple cup holder, you'd have to use some calculus: d[wl+2(.5wr)+2(.5(definite integral from A to B of r^2 with respect to theta))], or d[wl+wr+∫(from A to B) r^2 dθ] where w is width of middle section (vertical in picture), d is depth of cup holder, r is radius of round section, A and B are intersection points in the circle and middle section in radians, and l is the length of the middle section (horizontal). That's a lot of measurements and math, and the result isn't always as accurate or straightforward on more complex shapes. So in this case I could figure out the volume, but I would much rather use ping pong balls and much simpler math.
          Chris Currey
          • 2 Years Ago
          @jwang158
          I think it's less about tedium than it is about drawing interest. How many of us would have looked twice at an article about how Ford used CAD software and calculus to measure it's interiors? Well...I might have. But that's not good enough for marketers.
      ELG
      • 2 Years Ago
      seriously?!! you line with something waterproof and fill with water. just like CCing an engine to precisely determine combustion chamber volume
        Ducman69
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ELG
        Expensive, time consuming, can cause damage, and more importantly gives you an unrealistic size. There can be a big difference between the literal volume of a glove box and how much you can actually fit in it, and the ping-pong balls give a good measure of usable space. Its smart actually.
        KaiserWilhelm
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ELG
        Easier said than done.
      paulwilson05
      • 2 Years Ago
      Why not just use sand?
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