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
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
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
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
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,
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
"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
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
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
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
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 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
Smart technologies make it possible for more competitors to enter
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 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
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
[ 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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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