Manufacturer’s own CSI squad is on the case
People have a growing fascination with all things CSI. From video games to best-selling books and the top-rated CSI TV series, people just can’t get enough, enthralled by the mystery, the systematic examination of evidence and the “eureka” moment when all the pieces come together and a case is solved.
Believe it or not, a group of Ford scientists and engineers experiences that same sense of mystery and satisfaction everyday — with one very big difference. Their investigations centre on things automotive rather than human.
Home to about 85 test and materials engineers, Ford’s Central Lab in Dearborn is the company’s private CSI team, supporting product design engineers, manufacturing, legal, warranty operations and suppliers to identify the most probable cause of difficulties, ranging from the simple to the strange.
In a recent case, computers kept malfunctioning at the Lincoln Design Centre in Dearborn, Michigan for no apparent reason. “We were seeing a lot of new computers in one particular area of the design centre that were malfunctioning — sometimes within the first 30 days,” says Ford Commodity Analyst, Cyndi Morrell.
In fact, the computers weren’t just experiencing software problems, their motherboards were corroding. Morrell turned to Ford’s Central Lab to find out why.
Chemist Tom Munie discovered that the solder on the motherboards and other circuitry within these computers had been attacked by sulfur, causing severe, premature corrosion.
After some investigation, Munie pinpointed that the modeling clay, used in abundance near where these computers were stationed in the design centre, contained high levels of sulfur.
“That was only half the puzzle,” says Munie, noting that computers had previously been working in this area without problems.
“The kicker is because of a new government compliance, lead-based solder is being replaced with a silver-bearing solder. Silver readily reacts with sulfur, lead does not.
“That’s why only certain computers were displaying the problem.”
Thanks to Munie’s investigative work, the Lincoln Design Centre is moving toward using a modeling clay that contains less than 1 percent sulfur.
Central Lab was also put on the case when tiny craters began to pop up on the paint surface of vehicles rolling off the line at the Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, Michigan.
After testing samples taken from the centre of these craters, Central Lab engineers found traces of silicone.
A thorough investigation later revealed that the lint-free coveralls worn by workers in the paint department had been washed with a detergent that contained silicone.
Silicone particles from these coveralls were entering the paint spray booth’s air circulation system and landing on the wet paint, causing the craters.