Automotive Engineering - March 2021 - 25

COVER STORY

How COVID helped boost engineering productivity at Ford

KEITH TOLMAN/VIS

Engineering execs across the industry have
observed productivity improvements in their
organizations during the COVID lockdown.
For Hau Thai-Tang and Ford, it is no different.
" There's an old saying in business: Don't
waste a crisis! " he remarked. " We really used
this [lockdown] to help modernize our company, transform how we work, and accelerate
the adoption of digital tools. Before COVID we
were already thinking how we wanted to work
differently in the future. Part of that was leveraging virtual collaboration tools. That helped
us in making the transition to work at home. "
Thai-Tang keenly monitors various Ford
KPIs (key performance indicators) on a weekly
basis to track productivity. These might include
the number of surfaces being released out of
the design studio, or how many engineeringchange requests are being processed, or how
many CAD drawings are being released. " We've
seen an increase in productivity that validates
the transition; the data look good, " he said.
" The virtual collaboration tools have helped.
But frankly the teams are spending less time

" We really used this
[lockdown] to help
modernize our company,
transform how we work,
and accelerate the
adoption of digital tools. "

traveling to and from work and we were forced
to really empower the teams. "
Ford also made " a concerted effort " to reduce bureaucracy and reduce the number of
meetings across its engineering groups, ThaiTang said. " That's paid off in our product
launches with F-150 (in two plants) plus Mach-E
and Bronco Sport. And we did it with good
quality and hitting our launch volume curves.

vehicle dynamics and once headed Ford's SVT performance operations. Mach-E breaks the mold in having
the finesse of a smaller, lighter car - positive traits for
the first shot out of Ford's dedicated EV plant in
Cuautitlán, Mexico.
With batteries, motors and power electronics still on
the critical path of development (but generally riding
a descending cost curve), EV technologies face hurdles similar to those of emerging combustion-engine
powertrains more than a century ago. For one, they'll
have to exceed expectations among the F-Series faithful. But the challenges are clearly outweighed by the
EV opportunities, according to Thai-Tang.
" The product is much simpler, " he observed. " It's
less sensitive to environmental conditions such as altitude, thermal deltas and fuel quality. The complexities
that are inherent in ICEs drive a lot of expense in terms
of engineering and materials. And people often don't
realize new ICE platforms require an emissions certification every couple years. They require a lot of engineering over the life of the program and a lot of
spending to keep them on the regulatory glidepath.
" By comparison, when you do a BEV, you're done, "
he stated. " You don't have to worry about the emissions standard getting more stringent next year, because there are no tailpipe emissions. That represents
a significant savings that we're able to reinvest. "
Continuous improvement in battery chemistry " is the
big one, in terms of leveraging cost, " Thai-Tang said.
AUTOMOTIVE ENGINEERING

The teams were able to do that with the majority of them working from home. We've had
engineers take vehicles home to modify parts
in their home garages. They'd meet in shopping
mall parking lots to hand prototype vehicles off
to colleagues. Our employees have been very
resilient, innovative and creative in how they've
modified the work pattern. "

Lindsay Brooke

" Engineers are already thinking about energy density and packaging
as being much more a part of the vehicle architecture, with cooling
capabilities integrated into it. And we can reuse the battery cells,
power electronics and motors across platforms, to gain scale. "

Energy policy with R&D support
Relatively low hydrocarbon fuel prices in the U.S. are good for overall
automotive sales on one level - and thus are key to funding EV and
automated-systems development. But arguably they serve as a deterrent to widespread adoption of electric vehicles. " The way we look
at it is, low hydrocarbon fuel prices frankly put the onus on us as an
OEM to accelerate the cost improvements in electrified vehicles - to
accelerate their adoption and also the crossover between electrified
products and internal combustion engines, " Thai-Tang said. He noted
that while the industry cannot control the price of fuel, Ford uses it
as a forcing function to the progress still to be made with EVs.
Would EV purchase incentives from the government be preferable
to raising gasoline taxes? " We think that until we reach a cost parity
[of EVs and ICEs] that any support the federal government can give
us in terms of energy policy will certainly help us speed up the adoption, " he said. That includes R&D and advanced technology support,
as well as incentives to improve the EV charging infrastructure and
investing in the value chain - and strategic supply, in the U.S.
" From a geopolitical standpoint there is going to be some risk if
the majority of the global battery supply is coming from Asia, " he
said. " It's going to be very important to accelerate the incentives for
us to localize battery production in the U.S., but also the technology
shift to solid-state batteries. "
March 2021 25



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