I was recently invited to an exclusive tour of Ford‘s research lab in Dearborn, Michigan for a unique experience behind the closed doors to see exactly what goes into designing and engineering their vehicles. I was given one week notice, and I had to juggle things around in my schedule, but it was well worth the effort for this all-expense paid trip.
After a long day of flying, with a stop in Toronto, I finally arrived in Detroit. We were met at the airport by several drivers, who dropped us off at The Henry Hotel in Dearborn. Upon arrival, we received our welcome packages, and were invited to a cocktail reception in one of the hotel’s banquet rooms.
At the cocktail reception, we finally had an opportunity to meet and mingle with the other bloggers. There was only one other person from B.C., with several others from Toronto, and even some people from as far out as New Brunswick. In total, there were about 20 of us. Barb Whalen (shown above), Ford’s Colour & Materials Design Manager, talked to us about the colour and materials, craftsmanship, and trends that contribute throughout Ford’s line of vehicles.
The Henry Signature Salad – stacked baby greens, cucumber ribbon, toasted pecans, goat cheese and cherry timbale, sherry vinaigrette; Lemon sorbet to clean our palettes
Seared beef tenderloin with mushroom ragout; Cheesecake dome with strawberry sauce
After breakfast the next morning, we were whisked away to the Ford Research Lab, which was a short bus ride away from our hotel. This was really my first real look at Dearborn. Dearborn, Michigan is the home of Henry Ford and the world headquarters of Ford. It is literally the city that Ford built. Most of the cars on the roads were Fords. As we drove through massive Ford compound, every building looked nearly the same with their drab brown brick exteriors. Each building was clearly labelled and served its own purpose. We were dropped off at the Research Lab and were ushered into a briefing room, where we would learn more about Ford and its global initiatives. Ford firmly stands behind its values of building green, safe, and smart cars. It’s one thing to see it on a Powerpoint slide, but we would actually get to experience it firsthand. A lot of the technologies that we were about to see are not even in Ford’s current lineup of vehicles, but rather they’re being researched for their production vehicles for 2016 and beyond. Sadly, no flying cars to report…yet.
Now on to the fun stuff. After the briefing, we were split up into smaller groups for the lab tour. At each station that we visited, we were met by a research engineer from that specific lab, which I thought was pretty cool. They were taking time out of their day to talk to us about the things they were working on, and you could really get the sense that they are passionate about their jobs. Our first stop was the Light Weight Materials station, where we were met by Nia Harrison, Research Engineer – Manufacturing & Processes. Using magnesium and other stronger and lighter materials, Ford is able to help increase fuel economy by cutting down the weight of their vehicles.
Nia (above) demonstrates how she can hold up a door frame made of magnesium with just one hand. When you think about how much metal goes into making a car, you can imagine that every little bit of weight savings can make a big difference at the gas pumps. Our next stop was the Bio Materials Lab. Here we learned about Ford’s commitment to maximizing the use of recycled, renewable and recyclable content in its vehicles, while enabling maximum end-of-life vehicle recycling.
Deborah Mielewski, Polymer Technical Leader (Materials Engineering), talks to us about soybean foams and coconut plastics. These are just some of the things that go into Ford vehicles. This research team aims to replace petroleum-based ingredients in vehicles. This not only helps Ford reduce its CO2 emissions and petroleum use, but increases the amount of renewable materials inside their vehicles. One interesting fact is that 31,251 soybeans are used in the seat cushions and seat backs in the all-new Escape. Check out this post from the Ford Escape For A Day event.
This compartment tray is made out of 20% recycled US currency. Every year, millions of dollars of currency go out of circulation, and now instead of filling up the landfills, they’re going into Ford cars. Huh. On the right is an air cleaner tube which is made from wheat infused plastic. They also use recycled blue jeans as sound dampening material. Remember stonewashed jeans? You might find remnants of them on your driveway!
Our next stop was the Human Occupant Package Simulator (HOPS) Lab. Here they use the same motion capture technology used by Hollywood animators to study human comfort levels within their cars. Using up to 50 motion capture sensors to track the movement of the body inside a vehicle, they are able to use that information to create digital human models which help engineers determine how people of all shapes and sizes interact with all kinds of vehicle designs. This ultimately allows Ford to develop more comfortable vehicles.
Our last stop was the Human Machine Interface (HMI) Lab. At this lab, we learned how Ford incorporates intelligent instrumentation, ergonomic design and mobile technology to provide drivers simple and enhanced control over their car’s systems. HMI is a powerful, intuitive, digital command centre that allows drivers to monitor and control key functions in their car, using either their fingertips or voice. So rather than fumbling with knobs and buttons, and being distracted, drivers can enjoy a much smoother driving experience.
All I could think about was how cool Gran Turismo would be with this setup.
That pretty much wrapped up our tour. It was quite short, but very sweet. In total, we only spent about 3 hours there. Now it was back to the hotel for lunch, and then it was off to the airport. As I had to stopover in Toronto, I figured that I’d just stay an extra night there, especially since I’d never been there before. I found a hotel in downtown Toronto, and enjoyed exploring it on my own. I barhopped all up and down Queen Street and King Street.
The beautiful CN Tower looms large over downtown Toronto
Chorizo sausage topped with sauerkraut and sautéed jalapeños, with a side of duck fat fries from WVRST; California Benedict from Eggspectation – Two eggs poached, smoked salmon, spinach, asparagus and gruyère cheese on wheat bread with hollandaise sauce.
I thoroughly enjoyed my 2-day getaway. It was awesome getting a behind the scenes look at Ford. My perception of them has definitely changed this year. I think they’re one of the more innovative and progressive car companies out there. Ford never used to stand a chance against their often more reliable and innovative Japanese counterparts. It would appear as though times have changed. If you haven’t seen Ford’s new lineup of vehicles, I’d encourage you to visit a local dealership and check them out. You might be pleasantly surprised. I know I am. And I’m not just saying that because they paid for my trip. But that’s always a nice bonus.