Unless you have some domain knowledge of what this thing is, you might be thinking “Erector Set Gone Wild” :
It is simply the business end of one of the more than 700 robots that are being deployed at the Ford Louisville Assembly Plant to produce the 2013 Ford Escape. Here is one of the Fanuc robots at work in the plant, which helps make sense of all of that stuff in the previous photo:
One of the things that there doing with the robots is placing the windshields and backlights on the crossovers; this means that the robot end-effectors need to be equipped with suction cups to secure the glass as it is transferred from line-side racks to the body-in-becoming as well as cameras to assure that the location is correct.
Said Ford engineer Thomas Burns about one of the advantages of using the robotic equipment: “The ability of the machines to register any difference in each vehicle on the line improves our quality by providing a custom-like build.”
Louisville Assembly underwent a $600-million transition to prepare it for production of the new Escape. Previously, it had been making the body-on-frame version of the Ford Explorer. The unibody Explorer is now being produced at the Chicago Assembly Plant, along with its platform-mate Taurus.
The 3.1-million square-foot Louisville plant was originally opened in 1955. (Interestingly, the world’s first industrial robot company, Unimation, was established in 1956. But a Unimate didn’t get into auto production until 1961, at a GM plant.)
Here’s a fun-fact about Louisville Assembly: The Edsel was once produced there. Given that the Escape had record sales in 2011 of 254,293 units—more than twice as many as the entire run of Edsels (118,287), we think that the run of Escapes will be far longer at Louisville than the Edsel.