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Quasi-Technical • Anne Stevens

Prepared for Anne Stevens, Ford V.P., Manufacturing
Delivered at International Thermal Spray Conference, NY, NY

Back when I was an injection molding supervisor, my plant boss had a way of discouraging us from attending engineering conferences like this one. He'd simply say, "The great thing about conferences is that they tell us how many of our people we can actually do without."

I disagree. Conferences are tremendous for stepping back from the manic pace of manufacturing life. I like to compare manufacturing engineers to recovering Alcoholics, we both have to take it one day at a time.

One day at a time. Right now back at the office, I think the one day I'm working on is last Wednesday.

So it's good to get away, compare notes with our peers, and think beyond the immediate to the larger implications of our work.

Today, I'd like to tell you about a significant Ford innovation in thermal spray die making, one that promises to change the process of product development, allowing us to provide more unique products, in less time, at lower cost and complexity.

Yet I'd like to go further... to place this innovation and ones like it, into the context of a new age, one which will demand that manufacturing change more quickly, more completely, than any time in our history.

To really understand what this new age means it's vital to look back, to take an historic view of our industrial heritage.

And I admit to having an ulterior motive for putting this into historical perspective.

Ford Motor Company celebrates our 100th anniversary this summer. As I like to say, a hundredth birthday doesn't come around every day, so its significant event.

Yet its not just history for its own sake. As everyone knows, Henry Ford refined and went a long way to perfecting large-scale, low-cost mass production.

By 1920, more than half of all the cars in the entire world, not just in North America, were identical Model T Fords. Henry Ford literally put the world on wheels and defined the next hundred years of American mass market culture.

And it is Henry Ford's tenants of manufacturing, more than anything else, which now are challenged, and must give way to this radically new age.

How can one self-trained engineer do so much? Well, it really is the technical innovators, the engineers, who are most responsible for historical change.

As Isaac Asimov, a, biochemist who authored 500 books, once said, "Science can amuse and fascinate us all, but it is engineering that changes the world."

You can look to grand innovation like Johannes Gutenberg's printing press. That one invention made working class literacy possible, fostered England's Nation of Shop Keepers, and lead to democracy and the protestant reformation.

Then there was Eli Whitney's interchangeable parts which made the American industrial revolution possible.

More recently, there was an engineer named Jack Kilby down in Texas who decided to take a handful of common sand, silicon, and draw miniature pictures of circuits on it.

You really have to wonder what he was smoking to come up with the idea for the microchip.

Yet that miraculous innovation led to the computer revolution, the information age, and to the circumstances that will permanently change the way manufactures think and do business.

My point is that while we engineers may not be interested in history, we certainly make a lot of it. We're busy shaping the tools, and forever after, those tools shape our lives.

And today innovations are not just important, they are all important.

Even the economists -- who predicted nine of the last three recessions -- are in agreement on the importance of innovation. They say invention accounts for as much as 75 percent of all real productivity improvements. Many consider that an underestimate.

As business guru Peter Drucker says, "The only competitive advantage any company has today is the rapid development and application of innovative new technologies."

So where does the great automotive tinkerer Henry Ford fit into all of this?

Well, if you asked high school kids in the 1920s, they would have said "Henry Ford invented the automobile." That was easy to believe at the time, as his cars were the most plentiful, and he was not only the richest man on earth, but one of the most popular. The New York Times did a national survey ranked Henry Ford among the top eight Americans who ever lived, right up there with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

The man who brought the world the freedom and mobility of a personal car was a folk hero. And he was publicly credited as the inventor of the moving assembly line, vertical integrated manufacturing, flow-through production, and as-needed, now called Just-in-time, delivery.

Yet the truth is, Henry Ford invented nothing whatsoever.

What he did was to bring the most advanced ideas together from other industries to achieve his goal of a mass production process that could produce high-volume, high-quality, yet low-cost vehicles.

Henry Ford's contribution was more like that of a manufacturing engineer, not the father of ideas but the one who sees their potential in infancy, then nurtures them to maturity.

Maybe I'm prejudice since I am a manufacturing engineer, but I believe being the one who nurtures an idea is the more difficult and demanding task.

For our brain children, like our own children, do not come into this world fully formed and functional. It takes many years of care to bring it to where it can stand on its own.

One of my favorite philosophers is the late Charles Schultz. He once had Charlie Brown say:

"A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man's brow."

So the real challenge is getting an idea from conception to maturity. Even the greatest inventors recognize that their initial idea were only the beginning.

Charles H. Townes, winner of a Nobel Prize for his work in laser technology, once said, "It's like the beaver told the rabbit as they stared up at the immense wall of Hoover Dam, "No, I didn't actually build it myself," the beaver said, "But it was based on an idea of mine."

So Henry Ford's contribution was in recognizing the seed of great potential and bringing it to fruition. To that extent, he was probably one of the last century's first and foremost manufacturing engineers.

Today, I'd like to touch on just two aspects of his manufacturing contributions, because I believe they are central to why Ford's new thermal spray die making is so important.

First is Henry Ford's concept of technological progress. In 1929, he was asked what he had accomplished. Henry Ford said, and I quote him here:

"I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work, and the discoveries of still other men who preceded them...

"Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the great forward steps of mankind is the worst sort of nonsense."

Not surprising, even this notion of progress wasn't his original idea.

Henry Ford's idol was Thomas Alva Edison, the greatest inventor of his era. Long before Ford started making cars, Edison had hundreds of patents to his credit, including the phonograph, motion picture, and electric light bulb. If it weren't for Edison, you and I would be working on our personal computers by candle light.

Edison's greatest invention of all, however, was his team approach to research and development. He brought a team of machinists, chemists, mathematicians, and inventors together to work for him at Menlo Park. And he provided his cross-functional team with a lab outfitted with the most advanced tools available.

Edison guaranteed the world one minor invention every ten days, and a major one every six months.

"Not invented here" wasn't a concern to him. He said his work began where the last person's left off.

The phonograph was a good example. Many earlier inventors had developed aspect of the sound recording concept, yet it was Edison who brought it together.

Once at a conference like this one, Edison was introduced as the inventor of the talking machine. When he came to the podium, Edison said, "I'd like to make one small correction to that wonderful introduction. I didn't invent the talking machine. God did that. I merely invented the first talking machine you can turn off."

Similarly, Henry Ford didn't really invent the automobile, but he created the first one made with such manufacturing efficiency, that average families could afford to own one.

Both for Edison and for Ford, continuous refinement and improvement were central to a process that was one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

With each improvement of process or product, Ford was able to lower the price of his car -- from $840 originally to $720, to $595, to $500, and finally to just $260 in 1925.

Edison's approach was the prototype for our modern industrial labs, but it was a failure. He never made any money on his inventions and Henry Ford eventually had to financially support him and his company.

What Henry Ford did was to establish an industrial lab on Edison's model, one that was in every way successful. His skunk works employed cross functional teams of individuals who worked independent of the corporate hierarchy. For the most part, his project teams reported only to him.

Not all of his inventions were successful, of course.

Everyone who works in plastics, for example, has a mental image of Henry Ford swinging the axe at his soybean plastic deck lid back in 1941. With that axe, Ford struck a blow for the use of plastics in mass produced vehicles.

Yet may not know is that historic deck lid was a composite of phenol-formaldehyde reinforced with straw and hemp. That's right. Formaldehyde, the same chemical morticians use to embalm bodies. The formaldehyde-laced plastic made Henry's plastic body parts smell like the back room of a mortuary.

Most of Henry Ford's skunk works inventions were not so fragrant, and they were far more successful. His researchers created a wide range of inventions in an equally broad range of fields. Automotive, of course, but also agriculture, aviation and navigation, alternative materials and power, and environmental stewardship technologies, all emanated from Ford's informal research labs.

In his career, Thomas Edison patented 1,096 inventions. Some speculate Ford's innovators may have rivaled the total number of Edison inventions. No one really knows as Henry Ford steadfastly refused to patent his ideas. He encouraged anyone to use them, improve on them, thus fostering progress for everyone.

While we are not as magnanimous today, Ford maintains a tradition as a company that readily licenses our technologies, and is open to new ideas wherever and whenever they spring up.

In Ford Engineering and Research center's program called "Labs without walls," we actually send engineers out on several month assignments to where a high-potential idea is developing to learn the new technology and bring it home to Ford.

Today, the vast majority of Ford's extensive research efforts are through affiliations, joint-agreements and partnerships with suppliers, academia and governments. We even team up with our primary rivals in non-competitive R & D. As Henry Ford was fond of saying, "there is no such thing as independence. There is only interdependence."

As you'd assume, Ford Motor Company research has come a long way since Henry Ford's skunk works. Here is a video which brings you up to date of what Ford Research is and has been doing since it was formally established in 1951 after Henry Ford's passing.

[Run Ford Research Lab 50th Anniversary Video --(CUT from 13 to six minutes)]

Anticipate, innovate, and incorporate. That's what the Ford Research Labs, and good product or process development, is all about.

And it also happens to be an excellent model for managing our new age of knowledge workers. In fact, when we realized the implications of the knowledge age -- that the computer had elevated the power and importance of every individual -- the lab's matrix management approach became the template.

In the knowledge age, we need people to do what only they can -- to think, to create, to innovate. So every employee is trained, empowered and rewarded, to become a decision maker.

This brings up the other contribution Henry Ford ways which was the antithesis of the research model.

For Ford's goal was to manufacture the highest quality cars and the lowest possible price. That meant no variation, not in the machinery nor in the men and women who ran the assembly lines.

You've all heard Henry Ford say that "you can have any color Model T, as long as its black." He found the key to a low price was to allow absolutely no variations in the products and the line.

The same applied to workers. Ford boasted that he could teach any assembler his job in 15 minutes or less. Individuals were extensions of the machines. Without smart machines, it was the only way to achieve absolute standardization and uniformity.

Besides the obvious psychological problems unvarying routine fostered in employees, there was a larger outcome to mass production that Henry Ford hadn't anticipated.

Every few years in auto industry history, there was a dramatic shift in customer preferences. Suddenly the existing products were made obsolete by the public voting against them in the marketplace.

The result is that for a hundred years, auto makers have had to endure cyclical downturns as companies re-designed and retooled for shifting market preferences.

Interestingly, this problem ended Ford Motor Company's complete dominance of the industry in the 1920s.

Henry Ford said that secret to automotive success was the same one as marriage --- pick one model and stick with it. Ford was wed to the Spartan Model T.

Then some people down the block at General Motors realized that as people became more prosperous, they wanted distinct models, and even options on those models. Their motto became "a car for every purse and purpose."

Yet the bigger problem market shifts produced was cyclical downturns. They hit us especially hard, and they do it with unfailing regularity.

A career in the auto industry meant regular downturns, and long periods in which the lines were idled to accommodate changeovers. Workers were accustomed to be laid off several months every year.

So mass production always was both my industry's strength and our greatest weakness.

Mass manufacturing systems are, by design, hard tooled to produce millions of virtually identical vehicles. Consequently, manufacturing is cumbersome, like a freight train that once up to speed is difficult to stop, and impossible to turn.

Yet the knowledge age has nurtured a dynamically opposite market reality.

Smart technologies make it possible for more competitors to enter every market.

We have a new market out there. Highly informed, sophisticated, aware, with a world of knowledge about competitive products and practices readily available via the web.

Given a crowded, highly competitive global market, the customer is complete charge.

He and she demands one-of-a-kind products tailored to each individual's specific wants and needs. If one company can't provide the diversity of products and options they want, well, someone else can.

There are lots of books written lately about what industry must become. The most common new term is "virtual corporation." The Virtual Corporation, like virtually reality, is designed to be ultimately flexible, to provide whatever the customer wants at any time and in any given place.

Agility, robustness, adaptability are essentials of manufacturing in this new competitive age.

Contrast that to Henry Ford's ultimatum that customers could have cars in any color as long as it was black.

The situation, in fact, reminds me of a story. Actually, it was President Lyndon Johnson's favorite story about a teenager back home in Texas who got a job as an apprentice brake man on the railroad.

On the first day, the foreman was teaching him the job. He said, "O.K. son, now what would you do if you saw a train coming North on this track at 60 miles an hour. And then you saw another train a couple of miles away coming South on the same track at 90 miles an hour."

The boy said, "Well, I'd run home and get my brother."

"And why would you do that?" the foreman asked.

"Cause my brother ain't never seen a train wreck before."

No question, traditional fixed and inflexible manufacturing is on a collision course with knowledge age agility.

With our complex products, long development times and massive investments in each vehicle, what we lack any real flexibility.

And those trains are speeding up. The conversion of knowledge, information, and transportation ages, everything is changing at an astronomical pace. Markets and economies move about like bee bees in boxcars.

What can we do? Obviously, we've got to get flexible.

Agility, robustness, nimbleness, responsiveness, resilience, and flexibility... these are the only viable strategies in an era of unprecedented, and unpredictable, change.

We've been moving from mass manufacturing to lean production, and now in one decisive effort we'll go to fully flexible manufacturing.

The bottom line for us is that this transformation will cut waste, improve quality and efficiency -- and allow our plants to change the mix of products within existing capacity, and convert to new products with minimal investment and changeover losses.

All this to turn on a dime... to meet any market eventuality in the shortest possible time.

Our timetable for this transformation is aggressive. By 2004 -- just two years from now --- half of our plants will be flexible. By 2008 virtually all of Ford's North American plants will have flexible operations.

Flexible manufacturing is, however, a radical change for manufacturing. It is as much a mindset as a machine setup. It is a cultural norm that requires everyone and everything to be oriented to responsiveness.

Yet me briefly touch on three areas we've changing to achieve genuine flexibility.

First is virtual design. We create a cyber world in which we can explore alternatives in products, processes, and ergonomics before any costly commitments are made. Lead time and initial costs are significantly reduced.

[ RUN available video on virtual design]

Virtual design moves manufacturing upstream, allowing us to precisely design each step, producing sequential models of all assembly stations. This makes the abstract tangible. You can visually walk through your pre-built plant, see for yourself how all the elements work together.

The people side of virtual design is vital. Ford is a leader in ergonomics which we are applying in virtual design. We place simulated humans in an operational situation, and then calculate the impact of movement on the body, including a determination of the stress levels produced by repetition. In this way, we prevent poor ergonomic assembly conditions from ever reaching a production line.

In manufacturing plants, modularization is almost a synonym for flexible manufacturing. The idea is to take leading-edge, yet proven, manufacturing technologies and to incorporate them into a modular manufacturing system, with standardized processes, standard equipment and standard plant layout.

You might call these cookie-cutter plants, or Mc Manufacturing. When finished, you can walk onto the floor of any one of our plants and until someone speaks a language, you won't be able to tell whether you're in a Ford plant in Australia, Europe, South America, or America.

This approach lets us take greater advantage of standardization on a scale that more accurately meets customer and model needs.

Components must be designed for flexibility. Consider our new I-4 engine. This engine is designed so that relatively minor changes in cylinder bore and cylinder head configuration can produce more than 100 variants of this engine.

So we start with common architectures; then add common manufacturing facilities; then add new modular machines that can be retooled and reprogrammed to perform new tasks rapidly with minimal disruption to production.

Materials and personnel can be shared, if needed. And we'll save about 50 percent in changeover costs.

There are scores of other changes, but I think I've said enough to make my point that rapid changeover and flexible production are not just vitally important, they are virtually critical.

Now you understand why traditional tooling with four and five month development times is totally unacceptable in a robust manufacturing environment.

At Ford, we set out to find a way to create production die tooling for thermoforming and injection molding that was first and foremost faster yet did not sacrificing accuracy nor durability. And if such a technology could also reduce costs, well, that would be a tremendous bonus.

What we came up with was a rapid tooling method that cuts tool production time from 20 weeks to less than a week. Tool making without any machining. It delivers a 30 percent reduction in cost, and a 50 percent improvement over existing technologies. That's a major breakthrough.

We did it by changing the basic premise of tool making.

The traditional method of die making is as old as the sculptor's art. As the artist says, "You start with a block of stone and chip away everything that is not your statue."

For more than a hundred years, we've made tools by starting with a hunk of steel, then chipping and grinding away what we don't want. Oh, a lot of sophisticated new grinding and chipping technologies have been added, like carbide tools, numerical control CNC, and high-speech five-axis machining, which has speeded things up from nearly a year in Henry's time to five months today.

We've gone the opposite direction. Ford's thermal spray method is an additive process. Essentially we get a part model from any number of methods like stereo lithography, REN boards, silicone rubber or plaster. Then the part is cast in ceramic and frozen.

After we separate the master, the die is dried in an oven, not fired. It accurately replicates the pattern and has excellent surface and thermal shock properties.
Then a high-evolved industrial robot with four spray guns builds the surface.

And I can just hear some of you saying that thermal spray deposition isn't a new process. You're right. But in the past its been a flawed process. It traditionally made dies that were prone to surface imperfections and cracks.

Our system uses a computer-based thermal compensation software and programmable logic controller and infrared camera on the spray unit. It is a closed-loop system which can make instant, in-process adjustments. It's impressive technology.

We've developed this technology for small, as well as large dies. Our largest part to date is the inner hood mold for the Mercury Mountaineer, with measurements of ____ by ______.

We've taken this technology from concept to production level is just two and a half years.

And we've used our Ford Scientific Laboratory approach all the way. Our scientists were aggressive about going outside our own labs, to universities and other companies worldwide. We found what was done, bought it, and incorporated it into our program, not unlike Henry Ford did in finding the most advanced thinking for his production system nearly a century ago.

They spray coating method came from a small British company, Sprayform Holdings, which we acquired to gain the technology. And many, many resource people from a vast array of companies and universities, were enlisted in the development process.

We don't, of course, want to go into the tool making business. Our goal is to quickly get this enabling technology into the hands of tool making vendors. We're licensing the technology to make dies, punches, and other tools by this thermal-spray process.

The first license went to Praxair Surface Technologies of Indianapolis, which not only does a volume business in automotive and aerospace, but also sells thermal spray coating equipment through one of its companies. Another initial vendor is Atlas Tool of Michigan, one of the world's leading independent stamping die makers.

This Rapid Tooling technology is an excellent example of Ford's century-old approach to research and development, and a giant step, among many, into a new century of flexible manufacturing.

Henry Ford was a manufacturing pioneer whose approach to problem solving was both inclusive and direct. Much of the methodology he established is in use today, and will help us address the challenges of a new age.

So I hope in all of this rambling you see why I felt it important to a history lesson would help explain the importance of this new technology.

What we need now is more of that pioneering spirit, understanding the challenges of a new age, and employing both inspiration and perspiration to make it happen.

I'd like to end with a couple of thoughts Henry Ford made on pioneering efforts. Once, late in his career, he said -- "History doesn't mean dates and wars and textbooks to me; it means the unconquerable pioneer spirit of man."

And later he would add --

"Our great pioneering has not been in covered wagons but in laboratories and workshops and in better ways of living together as a human society."

It's my hope for all of us at this conference that we see this new age of whirlwind change as an opportunity for all of us to leave a legacy of pioneering achievements.

Thank you,

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