Ford Switches Software Gears

10 Jan, 2007 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Automotive giant moves toward standardized digital design

This week I am attending NAIAS (the 2007 North American International Auto Show) in Detroit, Michigan. The winter here has been exceptionally mild -- that is, until today. Winter finally arrived this morning with gloomy skies, freezing rain turning to snow and, of course, a long walk to the show. Weather aside, it's great to be here among all the new concept and production vehicles and technologies, not to mention approximately 6,000 of my peers.

One of the things I always notice upon hitting the show floor is the increasing complexity of the surfaces on the vehicles, regardless of whether they are concept or production models. These surfaces require increasingly sophisticated software to create and visualize them. All automotive manufacturers realize that complex surfaces are one of the "emotional" cues and aspects that differentiate their products from the competition; there is, therefore, a continuing interest in digital design products that assist in their creation.

In last week’s edition, I discussed one of the heaviest hitters in the demanding world of digital surface creation and visualization: ICEM. I had recently spoken with Pete Moorhouse, director of product marketing at the company, about ICEM's place in automotive styling. The company's original product, ICEM Surf, is used today by the majority of automotive OEMs and their Tier 1 suppliers in the design development of what the company calls "customer-visible surfaces." ICEM Surf was joined last year by a new software product, ISD (ICEM Shape Design).

Ford: The Styling Times Are A-Changin'

It's no secret that all American-based automotive manufacturers are struggling, and consequently looking for new and better ways to compete. Ford Motor Company is no exception. In this regard, late last year I spoke with Pete Lamoureux, Ford's manager of C3P-NG Methods, Deployment and Digital Build, Product Development, Ford North America. C3P-NG (CAD/CAM/CAE and PIM -- New Generation) is Ford's enterprise-wide PLM initiative that includes enhanced tools, methods and work practices. It's a universal process and is regarded as the basis for development work that began with the 3D CAD system I-deas, and is being further realized with Dassault Systemes' CATIA and UGS's Teamcenter.

In theory, C3P-NG will more effectively manage product and manufacturing data assets between global vehicle programs, departments and suppliers. Lamoureux is responsible for the product development-related implementation of C3P-NG, including all planning, support functions and methods publication, and for activities supporting the creation and maintenance of configured digital vehicles on the vehicle programs.

Lamoureux joined Ford about four years ago after spending a number of years with SDRC and UGS PLM Solutions in a variety of technical support and product development positions. His time with SDRC included a six-year assignment managing the launch of the first vehicle programs to use C3P at Ford in 1996.

Although the other major U.S. automotive companies do use a variety of software packages to design, engineer and manufacture their products, they have at least attempted to standardize on a platform. For example, DaimlerChrysler chose CATIA and the rest of the Dassault Systemes line, and General Motors uses UGS NX and other software applications in that family. Ford, on the other hand, has seemed reluctant to standardize on a single CAD/CAM/CAE platform. (In fact, Ford is still trying to wean itself from PDGS, a CAD system it developed in-house.)

Not that it isn't trying. Ford is attempting to do more digital design throughout the process, but especially in the modeling shop. For about the past year and a half, Ford has been using ICEM's ISD in a pilot project. Lamoureux said that Ford hopes to deploy it for production in all new car launches in February of this year. Currently, Ford has the largest installed base of ICEM Surf, but that will be superseded by ISD over the next couple of years.

Ultimately, Ford hopes to fulfill the purpose of C3P-NG; namely, to eliminate its legacy tools and standardize globally on a set of tools from a much smaller group of suppliers. According to Lamoreux, this new philosophy acts as one of the basic tenets behind Ford's future and its "Way Forward," as the company calls the restructuring plan it unveiled last year. A tough goal, to say the least, but one that Ford is standing behind as it looks toward better days.

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