Whether it’s to fly over the Eiffel Tower, whiz through the Grand Canyon or see what the top of your house looks like, most of us have at least played with Google Earth. The software application displays 2-D and 3-D imagery of nearly every point on the globe, allowing users to zoom in and pan around, drop pins on interesting places and even contribute to the site’s vast collection of data by submitting their own 3-D buildings or aerial imagery.

The technology, which also powers Google Maps and similar applications, has helped revolutionize the way we look at our planet, giving us the opportunity to virtually visit places we otherwise would never experience.  But it doesn’t show us what’s going on inside buildings.

Thanks to Allison Stephens and the team at Ford’s Advanced Engineering & Technology department, that capability is available for Ford employees, at least. Stephens is responsible for much of the work Ford has done over the past 30 years to improve worker safety and she’s also heavily involved in virtual manufacturing and assembly line simulation. Several years ago, she found herself wondering how her counterparts at other factories were performing certain activities. Stephens decided to do something about it.

Not being able to see how other plants set up certain manufacturing lines, Stephens thought it would be nice to have something like a Google Earth that they could use as a communication platform to see what’s happening at different locations.

Having worked closely with Siemens PLM, Stephens mentioned the idea and the Siemens team looked for ways to introduce Google Earth-like capabilities into the company’s Tecnomatix suite of products.  Tecnomatix is a portfolio of digital manufacturing solutions, including process design, logistics and material flow, work instructions, factory optimization, dimensional quality, issue tracking, and many additional management and optimization functions. One of these solutions is Intosite, a cloud-based application that peels back the top of the factory and allows manufacturers to look inside for a 3-D view of their production floor. Work centers and other points of interest can be tagged, asset capabilities shared and what-if scenarios quickly tested.

Siemens worked with Google and leveraged some of their technology, resulting in a map-based system where they can sit at a desk to “break through” the ceiling at any of Ford assembly plant and fly through, just like you do on Google Earth. They don’t necessarily see live feeds (yet), but they can see all of the workstations and assembly line layouts. Then what they can do is pin information to those workstations – photos, simulations, videos or any other pertinent data that they want to make available to anyone within the company.

The entire production floor at Ford’s Wayne, Mich., assembly plant is easily visualized, giving manufacturing engineers the ability to perform what-if scenarios and providing greater possibilities for optimization.

Of course, the security surrounding Ford’s Intosite implementation is multiple levels deep, and it’s accessible only to those with the proper clearance. Intosite has become an invaluable learning tool for engineers and assemblers alike. It’s also given Ford employees greater opportunities to innovate and experiment, to share product data and collaborate on designs without having to travel across the country.

>> Read more by Kip Hanson, Fab Shop Magazine Direct, 2017-03-17

Factory flyover