DEARBORN - Ford Motor Company’s collaboration with top-tier universities across the globe enhances the world-class expertise within the company and helps give Ford a competitive edge.
“We have leading experts internally, and we collaborate with universities so that we can magnify the impact of that expertise,” said Ed Krause, global manager, External Alliances, Research & Advanced Engineering. “Having our experts develop projects and lead teams at top universities really allows us to Go Further.”
In today’s day and age, Krause says, it is essential for companies like Ford to utilize external resources.
“No organization has sufficient internal resources to be a leader in all of the areas they want to be. Even the biggest companies in the world know a smaller and smaller fraction of what there is to know out in the world because of the incredible rate at which technology is being developed,” he said. “The companies that most effectively leverage the outside world are going to have a competitive advantage.”
One of the ways that Ford interacts with universities is through global strategic alliances. The company has strategic alliances in place with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Michigan (UM), Stanford University and Aachen University in Germany.
“What that means is that we’ve committed long-term funding to those schools, and we expect to be doing a portfolio of projects with them every year,” explained Krause. “It is high impact collaborative research, and we have specific intellectual property agreements in place that allow us to fast-track ideas into production.”
Ideas for research projects come from a number of sources.
“We have direct involvement from Ford vice presidents in the form of an executive committee that basically gives us broad direction on what the technical priorities of the company are and then we work with the schools to solicit projects in those key areas,” said Krause. “So the ideas can come from our executives. They can come from our scientists and engineers, or a professor can suggest an idea to us.”
Ford also collaborates with universities through its University Research Program (URP), which has awarded almost 600 grants at more than 120 universities worldwide.
“The URP is an open program,” said Krause. “It is highly competitive and it allows us to work with the best of the best globally.”
Krause says the company has been working diligently in recent years to globalize both the strategic alliances and the URP.
“We’re working on disseminating the best practices we’ve developed worldwide and then adapting them as needed for the local conditions so that we can capitalize on the different strengths of universities throughout the world,” he said.
Throughout all of the company’s university endeavors, “collaboration” is the key word.
“In no case does the university develop something and deliver it to our doorstep ready to use,” explained Krause. “The vast majority of our ideas initiate with our technical experts at Ford. They then design a work plan with the universities and manage the project. After the collaborative work with the university is successfully completed, there’s a great deal of work on the Ford side implementing the results to improve a Ford product or process.”
All ideas submitted for research projects must demonstrate a strong business case.
“Our process is very rigorous,” said Krause. “We require a business case for all of our proposals. Why do you want to do this project, and what is it going to do for the company in terms of new revenue, cost savings, technology firsts, etc? Who is going to work with you to lead implementation of the successful results here at Ford?”
Krause encourages all Ford scientists and engineers to consider how collaborating with universities might enhance their work.
“We need to continue to have more people at Ford building the competency to work outside and leverage the vast expertise that’s in the outside world,” he said. “Finding ways to help more people get that skill set is going to help Ford be more competitive in the future. The researchers of the future will not only need to be highly accomplished in their field, but increasingly they will also need to develop the ability to leverage their skills by collaborating with experts outside of Ford.”
The research that Ford has done with universities across the globe has led to advancements in many areas throughout the company – from Powertrain and Materials to Analytics and In-Vehicle Technology.
Here are just a few examples of research projects that have made a significant impact at Ford:
• Some of the exhaust that comes out of an engine is recycled back in to make it more efficient. The exhaust must be cooled down, however, to gain that efficiency. Fouling caused by soot can minimize the effectiveness of coolers, resulting in a need for oversized cooling units. Research led by Ford’s Dan Styles collaborating with the UM enabled Ford to right-size the coolers, resulting in a savings of $20 million per year in hardware componentry.
• After discovery of some gear rattle in vehicles, Ford’s Patrick Kelly worked with Loughborough University in England to put a rig in place for testing transmissions. The test rig enabled researchers to investigate and solve the problem, producing significant cost savings to the company.
• Ford was contemplating a multi-million dollar purchase in computer-aided software. While collaborating with one of the MIT research groups in a simulated environment, Ford’s Richard Riff led the group to confirm that minor upgrades to current software would eliminate millions of dollars in expenses, while better meeting the company’s needs.
• Ford’s Eckhard Karden worked with researchers at Aachen University in Germany and a battery supplier to reconfigure a typical lead acid battery to work successfully with start-stop hybrid technology. Utilizing that first-to-market battery design instead of the already available more expensive battery enabled Ford to save roughly $47 million in hardware costs and potential added costs.