As more and more of Valencia’s talented scientists look abroad for work, it is important to remember that Valencian achievements are not limited to citrus fruits and sunshine.
The Ford Motor Company is lucky to be located near Valencia; had they not been, they might never have resolved one of their biggest problems: micro and macro defects in the paint job on the bodywork of their cars.
You may think that it’s not such an important problem, but of course the paintwork is in fact the first thing a customer sees before getting into the car and playing with all those confusing gadgets that the latest cars now insist on featuring.
Ford is lucky in that Josep Tornero has been working at the Valencia Polytechnic University (UPV) since 1979, and when Ford approached UPV with the problem, he and his team set about applying their knowledge of robotics and finding the solution.
As a consequence, and after 10 years work, in 2012 Josep was awarded the Henry Ford Technology Award (HFTA) and Ford has now installed Josep’s system at two of their factories at Dearborn near Detroit and at another two in Kentucky, although the first was at Gent in Belgium.
It was however to Ford’s European HQ at Cologne that Josep had to go to pick up the prize, accompanied by UPV Vice Rector and currently Rector Elect Francisco Mora on that most Valencian of days, October 9th.
The system, consisting of a tunnel with 12 or 16 programmed cameras designed to achieve the highest level of quality control using artificial vision, is also due to be introduced into two more Ford factories in Kentucky and Chicago in the near future.
The system, also known as Automatic Inspection System (AIS) began its life as a prototype on the premises of the Institute of Design and Manufacturing, where Josep leads a team of engineers. As the work progressed, it became necessary to build a working system at industrial scale and so Josep teamed up with two Valencian companies, ICEMA, a Ford supplier at their Almussafes plant near Valencia, and AUTIS, an engineering company from Gandia.
As Ford assigned the system the status of official ‘Important Project’, this wholly Valencian innovation is now on the point of being installed at Ford plants worldwide, even in Asia, demostrating if needs be that Valencian creativity is not only about growing oranges and making paellas; Valencia is also cutting edge, state of the art technology.
Josep’s path to technological excellence was hard won, as was his dominance of the English language with a two year spell at Manchester University as a grant holder at a time when nobody had heard of Erasmus apart from medieval scholars, and a year at the NASA Center for Intelligent Robotic Systems for Space Explorations CIRSSE at Troy in New York State, where he did research trying to solve problems related to the assembly of space platforms in space using robots.
He also spent time at the University of California in Berkley as a part time visiting professor teaching a course on Automatic Control Systems for the last semester of the Mechanical Engineering Degree. In addition, he conducted research in multi-rate digital control for vehicles, mobile robots and root arms.
So, as I said, Ford was lucky to be in Valencia, where they could find Josep, and where they also found his son Marc, a highly qualified mechanical engineer, industrial engineer and project manager, who has come on board the project, working in the USA for ICEMI, overseeing the working of the system in Kentucky, verifying the mechanical parts and callibrating the cameras and lights.
Marc also studied at Berkley, where he found time to meet his American fiancée, whose family had fled Bosnia during the civil war there to settle in America.
The interview with Josep and Marc took place in the UPV, in English but, curiously, it turned out that Marc and Josep had decided two years before to speak to each other only in English, as a way of keeping up their level, a dangerous initiative that could put endangered English teachers like me out of work before long.
As far as the future is concerned, Valencia is in danger of losing Josep, who is considering offers in Australia and the USA and is perhaps looking for a change of scenery to pedal on his bicycle the 100 kilometres that he covers on his bicycle every Saturday, or to find those long open roads and new horizons that the New World offers for his beloved Harley Davidson.