Ford leverages product development investments to win IQS award

  • 30-Jun-2010 02:11 EDT
Ford Virtual Ergonomics.jpg

Ford says its investment in its Virtual Series Build provides better coordination between product development and plant personnel.

The 2010 Ford Taurus ranked highest in its segment in the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 U.S. Initial Quality Survey (IQS).

“A very impressive performance for a [car in its] first year on the market,” said David Sargent, Vice President of Global Vehicle Research at J.D. Power and Associates at a June press conference explaining the results of the study. “It is not often that a mainstream vehicle launches and wins its segment, but the [2010] Taurus manages that.

“Typically that does not happen; the outgoing model is all dialed-in and all problems are fixed,” agreed Pete Reyes, Taurus Chief Engineer for Ford. More to the point, this version of the Taurus was developed in a compressed period—a year shorter against Ford’s own product development cycle. There was more complexity. A late add to the program included reintroducing the high-performance SHO variant. Ford also decided to use the SHO to introduce Ford’s first new gasoline turbocharged direct-injection engine, which it calls EcoBoost. With those factors, improving quality to the point of capturing the highest IQS rating in its segment in its first year seems even more remarkable.

It required an impressive performance from the engineering and plant team. Reyes was quick to point out that the project had advantages from companywide investments, including improved digital tools and common bills of processes used in manufacturing plants developed a few years ago. Nevertheless, to meet an accelerated schedule meant a heavier burden on the product development engineers.

“Timing was compressed in the up-front milestones, but we did not shorten the launch phase,” explained Jan Allman, Manager of Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant. “We made sure the plant and the supply base had the proper amount of time to train and prove out their processes.”

Reyes agreed that preserving a proper schedule during the plant launch phase is crucial to quality. That left compressing the design phase leading to a final engineering release of designs—the point at which parts are ready to be tooled and produced. To do that left the team no choice but to rely more than ever on digital tools. They relied on CAE analysis instead of prototype testing to verify designs and surface modeling, with computer shading to verify styling. “If you design it digitally, you can make a number of changes—10 changes—each day without affecting anything real,” remarked Reyes. Consuming computer processing time is faster than tool making, fabricating, and laboratory test time.

Another advantage, explained Reyes, was the decision to build this Taurus off a common D-Platform. The platform was first used on the Lincoln MKS, which in turn derived from the Volvo X80. In this case, platform engineering works. It eliminated the need to build "mechanical" prototypes to measure road loads, ride rates, and lower body crash pulses since that data was available from the earlier MKS program. A full prototype phase to confirm requirements was the only one prior to the start of prelaunch builds in the plant.

Some of Ford’s newer digital tools provide for an even better partnership with plant personnel, within a process Ford calls Virtual Series Build. “Product specialists would work with [product development] early in the digital phase, using digital tools for ergonomics – like hand reach and clearances,” explained Reyes. “These are all part of a digital sign-off that we do before we build our prototypes.”

Investments in the Chicago plant helped as well, including a $400 million investment that included the addition of a flexible body shop. Even though the plant is the only building three largely related models—Taurus, MKS, and Taurus SHO—the flexible body shop contributed to the launch. Allman explained how: “One of the biggest advantages of our flexible body shop is that we are now able to integrate our builds with regular production. In the past, we would have to purge existing parts, convert equipment, build prototypes, and convert back to existing production and system fill. The equipment and tooling used today allows us to run current and future models concurrently without an interruption to production, which is also a huge time and cost savings to the company. We are leveraging that flexibility even further as we are currently running our preproduction Explorer SUV body while we are running regular production.” She also pointed out that improvements in in-plant air leakage and wind noise diagnostics contribute to a quiet Taurus.

“When we got to launch, we were all pleased that there were essentially no functional issues,” said Reyes. “We made [most engineering] changes around craftsmanship and squeak and rattle. We signed up for world-class exterior margins, 3-mm door margins, and 3.5-mm hood and decklid margins, which we met.”

Reyes cautioned that for all the investment in tools, knowledgeable engineers still count. Perhaps more so in a digital-only design project. “As a team, the thing we did well—but I would push to do even more aggressively—is listening to the engineer.”

As he relates it, there are temptations to follow a design path even when an engineer raises a caution. “If you want speed to market, you have to rely on the experts to tell you exactly what you need to hit your target,” said Reyes.

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