DEARBORN – As part of its culture of innovation Ford Motor Company has been offering free memberships to hundreds of employees who submitted ideas for inventions to TechShop, the do-it-yourself workshop and fabrication studio.
Steven Schondorf: TechShop enables creative side
Steven Schondorf is a hands-on guy who admits it’s difficult for him to ever say something is good enough. As a Ford safety electronics manager who works in the development of the use of radar for collision mitigation and airbag control modules, Schondorf is doing his best to keep drivers safe during a crash.
The radar-based safety system Schondorf and his team produce will be featured in the 2013 Ford Fusion, one of seven “must-have” technologies. When activated, the system “looks” down the road, adjusting Fusion’s speed if slower traffic is detected. If a potential crash is spotted, the radar enables braking support to help mitigate the situation.
It wasn’t radar that won Schondorf his membership to TechShop, though; it was a patent inspired by getting his car stuck in deep snow.
“I couldn’t get unstuck, no matter how much I rocked it back and forth,” he said. “And it gave me this idea we called ‘Stuck in snow mode,’ a way for the car to automatically get out of the snow.”
Though not yet implemented, Schondorf’s idea is for cars to calibrate a drive and reverse sequence that rocks the car out of the snow.
Schondorf uses TechShop for creative projects, including an object he has named the Whirlygig. It is a piece of acrylic cut into a series of concentric shapes that spin in the wind and reflect the light in interesting ways.
He believes having an outlet for his more creative side will enable him to carry that ingenuity over into his daily work.
“The process of experimenting at TechShop by taking an idea, visualizing what it should be and translating it to a real object helps me to be more creative in my work on a regular basis.”
James Marleau: Geeks play in collaborative TechShop
In corporate speak, James Marleau’s role at Ford is to maximize the functionality of the side door. In the real world, as the closure system engineer explains, that means his team’s job is to make sure doors seal securely, keep water out, reduce unwanted noise, and more. His team takes care of a lot of things drivers might not even notice – unless they didn’t work.
“We have a very holistic approach when we look at doors,” Marleau says. “We look at everything as an entire system that has to work together to give drivers the quality they expect and the results they need.”
His appreciation for a holistic approach in his daily work lends itself to the collaborative environment he enjoys at TechShop.
“TechShop is very people-friendly, and everyone wants to collaborate,” Marleau says. “Everyone brings their own piece of knowledge to the table. When I’m there, I might be attacking something from one direction, but someone else will suggest another way, which can give me a new way of looking at a problem.”
Marleau won his membership to TechShop with a patent for a one-way valve to let air out of passenger compartments. The valve can help better defog windows, freshen the air, and improve noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) characteristics.
The engineer occupies himself at TechShop with his many hobbies. He’s made brackets and fittings for an F600 race car, wing templates for model planes, even a lighted address plaque for his parents.
He describes TechShop as “a geek’s workshop – a great place for engineers to hang out, have fun and play with toys we can’t afford on our own.”
Don Price: Anticipating work innovation at TechShop
Don Price, Ford’s liaison from core engineering to USCAR (United States Council for Automotive Research), humbly says he has no idea why his patent was chosen over any other. His design could help quell the rampant theft of catalytic converters.
“Apparently, in medium to heavier trucks, that’s a very popular thing to steal,” he explains. “An entire fleet could be completely disabled. Using features in the existing vehicle anti-theft system, we were able to come up with a more secure and capable alarm. An aftermarket alarm supplier can’t do that.”
In the first three weeks of his TechShop membership, Price has gone every weekend and twice each week. At this point he is anxiously waiting as TechShop members complete their home projects.
“I think I’ve seen more home projects than work projects,” he says. “And that’s probably because everyone seems to be getting through something I call a ‘home-do list,’ and once people get their home projects done, that’s when we might see more work innovation begin.”
Price optimistically uses TechShop facilities, tapping into the collaborative and innovative culture enabled by the inspirational space.
Working in miniature connectors, Price explains, they need a new pressure sensor because the old sensors are too large. It is the engineer’s goal to work at TechShop with a small team and invent their own. He envisions the group getting together in the afternoon and – motivated by the surrounding ingenuity – designing the new sensor before dinner. From there, he hopes the group will utilize the equipment and have the new piece prototyped before the team heads home for the night.
John Jaranson: Everyone eligible should take advantage of TechShop
When it was announced in December that TechShop was opening to Ford employees, John Jaranson couldn’t wait until the end of the work day to sign up. The Ford technical specialist went during his lunch break to activate his membership.
Jaranson excels at making everyday things work well and look cooler. At Ford, he works in a research lab focused on improving car seats.
His patents are related to making seats considerably thinner while maintaining their comfort.
One of Jaranson’s first projects at TechShop was a copper shield used to protect the walls of his cottage that he heats with a wood-burning stove. Taking advantage of TechShop’s water jet cutter, he designed the decorative piece to look like the cattail plants that thrive in the river behind his cabin.
“With this kind of design, I don’t know any other way I would have been able to make this without TechShop,” he said, pointing to the intricate detail work in his copper shield.
Though Jaranson has completed several personal projects for himself and friends, he has also found the time to use TechShop to improve the work he does for Ford.
A piece of equipment in the lab used for ingress/egress research needed an adjustable kick plate. So, he and a team went to TechShop, laser-cut plastic and assembled it on the spot.
His excitement for TechShop continues.
“I think the creative community in the area is growing,” Jaranson says. “When I come here, there are always people working. You can see small communities in TechShop growing. It’s exactly the kind of thing I want to be a part of.”