“It would add a lot of complexity if we weren’t using this technology.” —Jim Buczkowski, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering
A Wi-Fi-based system automatically loads customized software into cars as they move through production
A car company that survives one of the worst market downturns in industry history and roars back to profitability within two years must be doing something right. The public face of Ford Motor Co.’s resurgence may be the crop of innovative product designers credited with lifting its sales, but inside the company, it is efficiency that tells the story.
Ford’s culture of operational excellence champions simplicity and a relentless reduction of waste. So, when Ford’s innovative product designers ginned up an advanced in-vehicle computer system for Ford and Lincoln drivers, the company’s operations personnel needed a plan to manage the system’s 90 possible configurations with minimal disruption to assembly processes.
The Ford SYNC, MyFord Touch, and MyLincoln Touch systems are in-dashboard command centers that allow drivers to use voice commands and touch-screen prompts to control their audio systems, integrate external devices such as smartphones, adjust temperature and lighting, and retrieve route information from an in-vehicle navigation system, among other tasks. Each system’s configuration depends on the make, model, and type of car being built.
“The complexity that exists with these kinds of systems is such that it would add a lot of hardware complexity—a lot of parts to assemble—if we weren’t using technology to help us configure and load the software,” says Jim Buczkowski, Henry Ford Technical Fellow and director of electrical and electronics systems for Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.
Instead of stocking 90 unique versions of the hardware line-side, Ford’s engineers designed a base unit that could support all 90 variants. Then, the manufacturing team created an assembly system that would deliver the proper software configuration to each vehicle in production—wirelessly. The company’s MES production scheduling system assigns each car, known in the system by its vehicle ID number (VIN), a MyFord Touch or MyLincoln Touch configuration. The VIN corresponds to a unique IP address. When the vehicle in production reaches a Wi-Fi access point, the system validates the vehicle’s IP address and begins the software install.
“Ford has taken significant steps to develop vehicle connectivity technologies that customers will want and value and can enjoy all around the world,” Buczkowski says. “Wi-Fi installation for complex, software-intensive systems such as Ford SYNC and MyFord Touch is what makes rapid globalization—with the highest quality and most efficient, cost-effective manufacturing techniques—a reality today.”