How does a sketch drawn by a designer turn into sheet metal on a vehicle? Jack DeMarco, design technical operations manager, has the unique role of bringing Ford designs to life. He and his team work alongside designers to capture the intended vision of a vehicle, while also making sure it’s feasible from an engineering standpoint. This involves developing digital data of a design so the engineering team can use it to create a vehicle.
From early design to finished concept vehicle, it usually takes design technical operations 18 months to complete. However, this changed with the all-new Ford Maverick, where DeMarco and team were tasked with running the program much faster.
Maverick is the first vehicle to go through the enterprise product line management system – a brand-new, agile working model at Ford. The new product development approach cut 20 months total out of the normal schedule, resulting in one of the fastest regular production programs Ford has ever done.
DeMarco’s organization was a big piece of the puzzle that allowed the Maverick program to trim fat from its traditional development process. Over 27 years with the company, DeMarco had never been involved in such a pilot, but done correctly, he saw it would improve efficiency and reduce bureaucracy. “It wasn’t easy in the beginning,” he said. “We had to identify people qualified for the program, get them the right tools, have the right facilities – it involved a lot of the little things we take for granted.”
Leadership provided DeMarco basic guardrails, but gave him and his team the freedom to develop the structure and processes and to choose the right people. A handful of engineers from outside the design studio were brought in, most of them with CAD literacy or a broad understanding of product design and product development.
The studio team shared ideas and worked together in one communal workspace, trimming off 15 weeks from the usual development process for design technical operations. DeMarco and Whipps’ team was able to use the CAD data for each theme, displaying them side-by-side digitally, saving time that would normally be dedicated to clay milling.
Not only were these engineers brought onto the team – they were brought into the design studio. Duncan Whipps, design technical operations supervisor, oversaw this group along with DeMarco, and decided to have them co-locate to the truck studio to work with the designers. “It was crucial to have our engineers located in the design studio for a more efficient work environment,” said Whipps. “They were able to co-create together and keep the data within the group so we could keep things moving and make decisions quicker.”
The studio team shared ideas and worked together in one communal workspace, trimming off 15 weeks from the usual development process for design technical operations. Key changes included more work with digital tools. Usually the design studio mills out clay models to show off the different themes created by designers. The themes need to be compared side-by-side so leadership can choose which design they like most, then it proceeds as the primary vision for the final vehicle. DeMarco and Whipps’ team was able to use the CAD data for each theme, displaying them side-by-side digitally, saving time that would normally be dedicated to clay milling.
The most important aspect for the success of the pilot program was that everyone on the design technical operations team and the engineering team was dedicated solely to this project. Simply providing each engineer the right digital tools, a studio location for easy collaboration, the freedom to manage their own part of the project, and the opportunity to focus on just this one program led to its success.
Maverick’s pilot program has paved the way for design technical operations to use this more efficient development process. DeMarco said there are about five or six product programs now using the co-location model. “At the time, with Maverick’s product program, it was a pilot,” he said. “Although it wasn’t perfect, we had dedicated, hardworking people. Now, we are one step closer to reducing bureaucracy in the company.”