Improving New Product Development Process
We have realigned our capabilities to deliver better products faster than ever before. We are continuing our investment in flexible manufacturing, which reduces costs for each new product and lets us shift production at an individual plant from model to model to address changes in customer demand quickly. In our flexible manufacturing plants, we are using reprogrammable tooling in the body shop, standardized equipment in the paint shop and a common build sequence in final assembly, so that we can build multiple models on one or more platforms in a single plant.
In our flexible body shops, where sheet metal comes together to form the vehicle’s body, more than 80 percent of the body tooling can be programmed to weld a variety of body styles without delays caused by tooling changeover, and we can adjust the mix between models without restrictions. Under traditional systems, unique tooling is required to weld each individual vehicle body style. Running a different body style down the same line traditionally requires considerable additional downtime for physical tooling changeover. Our flexible manufacturing strategy dramatically reduces physical tooling constraints through the use of the programmable tooling technologies that eliminate the need to replace model-specific tooling for locating, clamping and welding. This saves time and limits disruption to the plant’s operations.
In our flexible paint shops, we are using standardized equipment capable of painting a vehicle of any size. This not only allows us to transition easily from producing one vehicle to another, it also improves paint quality and minimizes environmental impacts. In part due to the use of standardized equipment, Ford has the best paint durability after three years in service of any automaker and was tied for first place in paint customer satisfaction after three months in service, according to the Global Quality Research System survey conducted for Ford by the RDA Group.
To facilitate flexibility in our final assembly plants, we are designing vehicles so that they are built in the same sequence. This allows us to build different models in the same plant and allows us to respond more quickly to changing consumer needs. It also allows for efficient utilization of people and equipment.
We are also leveraging our plant flexibility to facilitate our transformation to a more balanced portfolio of vehicles. For example, our investment in flexible manufacturing enabled us to move our SUV production from the Michigan Truck Plant into the Kentucky Truck Plant. We were able to consolidate the vehicle lines formerly produced in Michigan into the Kentucky plant in less than three months. The Kentucky plant now produces the full array of Ford’s F-Series Super Duty® truck products, as well as the Expedition, Expedition EL, Navigator and Navigator L.
Our investment in flexible manufacturing also is allowing us to more quickly and cost-effectively convert the former Michigan Truck Plant to a car plant (now known as the Michigan Assembly Plant), which began producing the global Ford Focus for the North American market in 2010 for introduction into our dealerships in the first quarter of 2011. This plant utilizes programmable equipment in its body shop, which allows the Company to run multiple body styles down the same production line without requiring considerable downtime for changeover of tooling.
In recent years, Ford has made important strides in assembly plant body shop flexibility in plants such as Chicago Assembly, Oakville Assembly and Kentucky Truck, where significantly different products are built on a common system. Nearly all of our U.S. assembly plants will have flexible body shops by 2012, to enable quick responses to changing consumer demands. And, nearly half of our transmission and engine plants will be flexible, capable of manufacturing various combinations of transmission and engine families.
In our powertrain facilities, flexible manufacturing increases our ability to respond quickly to changing customer demand and reduces costs. In our traditional powertrain facilities, changeover from one product to another typically requires a 12- to 18-month extended shutdown and usually results in significant equipment obsolescence. A flexible system changeover, by contrast, often takes place during regularly scheduled plant shutdowns during the summer and over winter holidays, requiring only a two- to six-week shutdown to implement an entirely new architecture.
A key enabler to quickly launching new products in our flexible manufacturing plants is virtual manufacturing. Virtual manufacturing technology allows Ford to quickly add various models into an existing facility – or to reconfigure an existing facility to produce a new model. Every new product is “built” in a virtual manufacturing plant, which contains every tool, station, robot and conveyor, all created via three-dimensional CAD data. This allows the manufacturing engineer and the product development engineer to simultaneously prove out product and process compatibility at least one year before the first physical part is built and two years before the first vehicle is built.
Ford has a range of industry-leading virtual manufacturing and product tools. Many of these are housed in the Immersive Virtual Review lab in the Product Development Center and the Manufacturing Development Center in Dearborn, Michigan. In these labs, designers and engineers evaluate early vehicle designs against a backdrop of virtual conditions and experience a vehicle from both production workers’ and drivers’ vantage points before it is built. This helps us create Ford and Lincoln products that provide the “perfect fit” for almost all customer body types. The Product Development Center also houses the Cave Automated Virtual Environment, a Programmable Vehicle Model and a virtual reality station. These technologies utilize advanced motion-tracking equipment and computer software to generate virtual vehicle interiors and exteriors at actual scale, reducing the need to build physical prototypes. This process significantly reduces product development costs and time while improving vehicle quality.
Ford is also the first automaker in North America to use a new virtual technology that allows engineers to “see” unwanted sounds and eliminate them during vehicle development, to further reduce in-vehicle noise. Quiet vehicle cabins are an important element of the customer driving experience and customers’ perceptions of overall quality. The technology, called “Noise Vision,” uses a small sphere equipped with more than 30 highly sensitive microphones and 12 special cameras. Powerful software reads data from Noise Vision and creates a computerized image showing interior noise “hot spots,” including wind noise, a squeak or rattle, or unwanted feedback from the engine or the road. Ford began using this technology to develop new vehicles for the 2010 model year.
Noise Vision has significantly reduced vehicle development time and costs while improving quality. It has allowed Ford’s North American NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) engineers to reduce wind tunnel testing time by 200 hours each year – saving more than $300,000 in testing costs. The success of this new technology is also reflected in improved quality ratings. According to one third-party quality survey, Ford has the fewest wind noise, squeak and rattle issues of any full-line vehicle manufacturer. In addition, the RDA Group’s Global Quality Research System found that Ford brands have higher interior quietness customer satisfaction scores than our Asian counterparts.
Virtual manufacturing translates into multiple benefits for the Company. For example, incompatibilities are solved on the computer, saving re-work costs and time. Engineers can also see virtual assembly operators “at work” in their stations, ensuring that real operators will be able to safely install each and every part. In addition, Ford has deployed motion-capture technology, which allows an ergonomic specialist to evaluate production operations for attributes that could make it difficult for a line worker in the assembly plant to perform with the required level of quality and safety. These issues with the vehicle’s design can then be corrected in the virtual environment before the vehicle goes to production. These technologies result in vehicles that are easier to build and higher quality and processes that result in fewer injuries to our workers. Ford has seen a 75 percent reduction in work-related injuries since the introduction of these proactive processes.
Virtual manufacturing also significantly reduces the time and costs required to develop new vehicles, and it improves quality. Thanks to our use of virtual manufacturing, product development time is approximately 14 months shorter than it was in 2004. Virtual manufacturing is also a cornerstone of our product globalization strategy, in that it allows us to design one product and one process for multiple applications. As part of our integrated, closed-loop feedback and learning process, manufacturing engineers track issues we discover when actually building vehicles and add preventative solutions into the virtual design standards for all future vehicles. We began tracking the number of manufacturing issues in 2005 as a baseline for improvement. As a result of using virtual manufacturing, we have reduced potential manufacturing engineering changes by more than 85 percent.
We are also using virtual technology to improve our market research and design processes. We recently implemented a new product modeling process that uses high-quality digital animation of the vehicle to create virtual models of vehicle concepts and vehicles under development. The process allows designers and market researchers to use digital animation models instead of two-dimensional photos or expensive and time-consuming clay models. This allows more design creativity and flexibility, because design changes can be made “on the fly.” It also improves the market research process. Seeing the test vehicle on a 25-foot screen allows the customer to better evaluate the options and offer opinions. It also allows for better comparisons with competitors’ products, because both products can be presented in comparable digitized form. Virtual vehicle models significantly reduce market research costs and time because they reduce the need for creating and shipping multiple three-dimensional models. This process, which debuted on the 2010 Ford Taurus, will significantly improve the speed and cost of developing new vehicles. The program helped deliver the new Taurus 12 months sooner and cut research costs by nearly 50 percent.
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