Ford Motor Company: People, Process And Technologies
Ford Motor Company
The main way that Ford Motor Company manufactures the bodies of their cars is via the use of a process called Body Stamping. When a new car model is created, a CAD model of the body’s outer panels is created and split into easily stamped panel sections. Flat sheets of metal are then pressed into the required shapes for each panel before being transported for welding and assembly. Ford use this technique for all models they produce, however integrating new models into this process has been considered to be a bottleneck due to the complexity of developing the new stamps and the factory’s programming for each new addition. As the aggressive approach to launching new products is a key pillar in Ford’s marketing success, this made the body stamping process an area of focus for lean implementation.
In 2004, after spending time in a team of elite Ford engineers developing his understanding of the lean system, James Morgan was tasked with taking his developed knowledge and applying it to the stamping engineering department. At the time, the stamping process was still rooted in the mass-production style that was a large part of Ford Motor Company’s early development.
Ford’s die development was not up to par with their close industry competitors, which was not acceptable as the outer shell of the car is all that most customers see. Ford products were unimaginative and did not draw the eye of the customer, due to their lack of exciting features or interesting designs, which prompted the Body and Stamping Engineering (B&SE) team to change their focus to that of the customer, seeking to add value by changing their business practices to allow their products to be more attractive to the buyer. Changing the company attitude resulted in much better inter-departmental relations and allowed for more exciting products to be suggested by the design team without being shot down. The better reception from customers fed back to the team, allowing them to develop more confidence in their work and by year five, Ford had turned from monkeying other corps’ strategies to developing their own to better suit their work environment.
Ford also found that their communication streams had room for improvement. The separation between top management and on-site engineers created misunderstanding between the two sectors, impeding the forward development the company so desperately needed. To combat this, meetings were arranged where these two groups could interact, allowing the company to gain a better insight into the grievances that on-site engineers were dealing with. This idea was extended further when the company went global with annual “B&SE All-Hands Meetings” which involved the global team in a similar open discussion. By creating value streams between the different areas of the organization, Ford were able to better align their objectives and unify the company’s workforce to achieve goals easier (Morgan, 2013).
Another identified problem was the lack of in-house technical knowledge regarding the die construction process. Ford had no internal staff with the know-how to design stamping dies, which generated a requirement to contract this out to external parties. By outsourcing the die design, Ford were losing the knowledge to innovate in the area, which impeded their ability to truly optimise the process. Ford opted to hire their own engineers for die creation, making sure to employ only the best engineers for the job, and also developed maturity models and development plans to ensure that their current engineering team had the same level of technical prowess. This move gave Ford back their control over the die manufacturing process (Liker & Morgan, 2011).
While changing the company culture to be more focused and united definitely helped Ford’s stamping process to become more efficient, there were still ways that Ford could improve their processes to gain futher profit. With this in mind, the company set out to optimise their stamping process using lean techniques.
On-site teams found opportunities to work for longer on parts without stopping, moving further along in the process before having to consult the customer for specifics. Using this set-based concurrent engineering approach to stamping allowed large portions of cars to be completed in bulk before any input is required regarding small changes or optional extras.
Regular meetings were held between personnel to discuss problem areas in the process, where things are going wrong and how they could be attended to. This brought together people from the engineering and die-making teams, and opened up the possibility for people to discuss the development of countermeasures to inefficient operations and further invest in the lean thinking mindset. Developing internal manufacturing standards and rules became much easier with a united team. Similar events were also held when critical milestones were reached to gather more information on how new product lines and processes were affecting the overall manufacturing efficiency of the factory. Holding these meetings before project completion allowed a better understand of obstacles, as the immediate problems are fresh on people’s minds.
With the large volume of differing models and components, it was found that much of the stamping quality issues derived from the sheer amount of differing designs and requirements. This was addressed when Ford was globalised, as the All-Hands-Meetings gave the engineering team the ability to speak with each other and develop a more standardised process for part drawings and stamping procedures. Ford also incorporated the functional build system into their production methods, focusing on the final product going together as opposed to individual parts being perfect and significantly cutting down part cost as a result. (Vasilash, 2000)
Before leading-edge technologies can be used to further the efficiency of a business, it is important that all parties have the required foundational knowledge to understand how to implement them. Ford recognized this, and the global standardization of manufacturing procedures and rules allowed them to ensure that their engineering team were aware of the current state of their field. By creating and maintaining documentation covering all aspects of the stamping process from governmental requirements to lessons learnt from the organisation itself, Ford were able to keep on the bleeding edge of innovation for their company.
Utilizing virtual modeling was also extremely useful to the company. By virtually constructing new cars from the ground up using specialised software, engineers were able to turn their concepts into something they could manipulate and study for potential fitting flaws or aesthetic change requirements before testing the parts on actual machinery. Simulations could also be run on the models to determine the physical characteristics of parts such as the mass, strength limits and other critical attributes. 3D models allowed the die manufacturing team to convert the approved concepts directly into new dies, with every detail preserved from testing. This entire operation allowed a significant reduction in wasted time and resources tied to prototyping new products and allowed the sourcing of parts from anywhere in the world due to the ability to quickly transfer this data.