DEARBORN -- Ford scientists and engineers are looking outside of the auto industry to partner with the best and brightest professors, researchers and students at top universities around the world to develop new ideas and technologies.
Just last year, Ford collaborated on more than 150 projects with universities worldwide. Research efforts stem from formal alliances, the global University Research Program (URP) and departmental funding. In the U.S., formal alliances exist with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Michigan (U-M) and Northwestern University.
“Ford scientists and engineers are some of the brightest in the world,” said Ed Krause, manager, External Alliances, Research and Advanced Engineering. “However, there is vast technical expertise beyond our walls.Companies that most effectively leverage external resources and know-how will have a competitive advantage accelerating innovation.”
Formal alliances strengthen and grow globally
Ford’s first formal alliance was established with MIT, a collaborative relationship for the past 13 years in areas including active safety, vehicle vision and positioning, and alternative fuel combustion.
The U-M relationship is 50 years old. Building on the rich history between Ford and U-M, a formal alliance was formed in 2006 focusing on projects that have a high likelihood of implementation and direct benefit to Ford. Research efforts at U-M include future SYNC® functionality, vehicle controls and advanced materials.
U-M Professor Jessy Grizzle says the collaborative spirit of such an alliance provides a rich learning experience for students as well as professors as they explore new and intuitive ways to teach their curricula.
“I’ve been working with students and strong engineers at Ford for nearly 25 years developing rich, relevant and practical solutions that can help minimize the environmental impact of transportation,” said Grizzle, who has co-authored 16 patents with Ford. “From a university perspective, the discovery process and seeing your research come to life through real hardware implementation is extremely rewarding in and out of the classroom.”
“We’ve created dynamic,multifaceted alliances with MIT and U-M,” said Krause. “These partnerships have been very valuable; we have developed a best practices model that we can apply and adapt globally as we grow alliances around the world.”
Ford has a long-standing relationship with Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen University in Europe. In China, Ford has alliances with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Chongqing University, where joint work with light metals and other advanced materials and manufacturing processes is under way.
The company also is exploring opportunities to expand collaboration to universities in other developing countries including Brazil, Mexico and India. Krause explained that research initiatives will reflect the One Ford plan. As Ford determines region-specific technical centers of excellence throughout the world, university research in these regions will reflect the specific technical priorities.
URP encourages competitiveness
The University Research Program, in its 20th year, has awarded nearly 500 grants at more than 120 universities worldwide, investing more than U.S. $60 million in collaborative research projects.
“We have great research capabilities through our university alliances and URP,” said Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering. “These will really take us into new areas of science, real discovery, blue-sky type research that will let us look at alternative fuel systems, alternative propulsion and business issues. We want to take our research capability sometimes 15 to 20 years away from production – and apply it to our production programs when ready.”
This past year, Ford awarded 13 new URP grants to 12 different universities around the globe, from Wayne State University in Detroit to Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and from the University of Zagreb in Croatia to Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.
“The University Research Program is highly competitive and allows Ford to work with the best of the best globally,” said Krause. “The program can be the first stepping stone for a university to foster a stronger relationship with Ford.”