Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ford takes holistic approach to global production - SDM Pulse, Spring 2009

By Adrian Diaz, SDM ’07

This is make or break time for the American auto industry—a fascinating and exciting time to be working for
Ford Motor Co. Ford has introduced a new approach to its business called “One Ford,” which is a holistic concept that takes advantage of the company’s global reach to improve products and streamline production. This new approach is focused on developing one team, one plan, and one goal for all the company’s products, a perfect setting for my SDM lessons to be put to good use.

In my job as a product development engineer at Ford of Mexico, I am working on a vehicle for the North American market that will capitalize on this new framework, using global platforms to develop customized vehicles for different markets. My experiences in SDM are helping me understand the fundamental underpinnings and assumptions of this concept from multiple perspectives, including those of systems engineering, product design and development, multidisciplinary system design optimization, as well as the human side of technology. Attending SDM while working has also made it possible for me to apply improvements to processes right away and capture them for my SDM thesis.

Ford of Mexico colleagues Antonio Del Puerto, SDM ’08,
(left) and Adrian Diaz, SDM ’07, pose in front of the new
2009 Ford Fusion Hybrid at the 2009 North American
International Auto Show in Detroit.

In my current project, for example, we are utilizing a global platform and substituting selected common systems to satisfy regional requirements. This may seem like a simple idea, but putting it into practice presents a number of interesting challenges. Some of these derive from the basic idea of developing a platform that can potentially satisfy all requirements for all regions whether any one feature is implemented in an area or not. This approach requires us to take into account all relevant requirements for various regions during the development of the initial vehicle concept design. This in turn means all relevant parties must be involved from the start.

Identifying requirements may sound easy, but this task gets tougher as systems requirements for different locations are added into the “One Ford” mix. Getting a clear snapshot of all requirements calls for experts from each market and from each discipline to collaborate on the initial phases of the design.With the systems mindset fostered in SDM through such courses as Multidisciplinary System Design Optimization, Systems Engineering, and System Architecture, I’ve learned the importance of methodically decomposing technical systems and identifying teams that have a stake in the product at the outset.

Unless we can successfully analyze each market’s requirements early, downstream design changes will be needed, increasing costs. We know, for example, that differences in regulations in Europe and in North America mean that European vehicles may require different components than those typically found in North American vehicles.

For that reason, the company is developing new platforms that will make it possible to customize even the
overall structure of the vehicle to meet different regulatory needs. Our goal is to move from the traditional approach, in which vehicles with major structural differences must be produced in different plants, to one in which the same assembly plant can produce vehicles with very different components. This flexible design will not only serve us well in competing in the global marketplace, but should make it easier to incorporate new requirements into future vehicles without retooling.

With so many people in so many countries involved in global product development, human interactions present huge challenges. One important lesson that SDM has drilled into my mind is that complex engineering systems have both technical and human elements. Courses such as Managing Innovation and Organizing for Innovative Product Development have helped me understand and deal with the human interactions that are key to a successful launch. This experience has sensitized me to the issues as well as provided me with tools to engage and contribute to the solution of real-time issues during product development.

At times this project feels like an uphill battle, but I believe that Ford and Ford of Mexico are headed in the right direction by taking this holistic, systems approach to vehicle design.

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