ford escape interior with ping pong balls in the cupholder

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.
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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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