Ford's Australian Influence is Here to Stay
The end of Ford Australia’s car production may be just months away but Ford Australia’s Research and Development and Product Development team will be playing a major role in developing new products world-wide. In doing so, the company will become Australia’s biggest automotive sector employer from next year, according to Ford.
After its last cars have left the production line Ford’s Broadmeadows, Victoria plant will be transformed into its Asia-Pacific Product Development Centre. Its You Yangs proving ground in Lara, Victoria, which was opened in 1965, will also play an important role in developing new models. You Yangs has already put Ford’s Ranger and Everest models through their paces as well as the tiny Ford Figo, which was destined for the Indian market.
Ford sees its $27 million Geelong Research and Development Centre and the Asia-Pacific Engineering Centre in Campbellfield – including the Design Centre –as a crucial part of its Asia-Pacific operations according to Ford President and CEO Graeme Whickman.
Ford Australia has a reputation for innovation that started 80 years back with the invention of the ute. Today it’s continuing with innovative advancements in using “hardware-in-the-loop” (HiL) virtual vehicle testing technology.
HiL was originally used to test sub-systems like locking and lighting. Today Ford’s Australian team is pressing it into service to test stability and traction control systems, brake control units, Adaptive Cruise Control and Forward Collision Warning systems.
It’s even allowing Ford’s designers to simulate the impact of crashes on vital systems like hazard lights, door locks and fuel pumps. Ford’s innovative approach lets them test systems early, before they’re tried on prototypes, saving them a lot of money in the process.
Ford’s immersive Vehicle Environment (FiVE) lab in Melbourne allows its designers to go even further, building a full-size virtual car in ultra high definition that designers can even “walk around”.
Its global network of virtual reality centres comprises two primary FiVE labs – the facilities in Melbourne and Dearborn, in Michigan – and collaboration centres in Germany, China, India, Brazil and Mexico. The technology has been used to verify more than 150,000 details on more than 200 virtual vehicle prototypes built in the global FiVE labs.
“Our One Ford plan is to develop vehicles with stronger global appeal,” said Ford Asia Pacific’s digital innovation manager Peter Bunting.
“This technology helps achieve that goal by assisting our designers and engineers to collaborate in real time on an international scale – while also improving vehicle quality.”
Global design effort
The system allows engineers and designers around the world to quickly move between different virtual design proposals to examine and select the best option. Making use of sophisticated shadows and real-world lighting conditions, the process ensures that all production vehicles have been painstakingly reviewed for usability, consistency and design effects.
“We can work virtually on the same product, side-by-side, with people all over the world,” said Todd Willing, design director, Ford Asia Pacific.
“Using the 4K-resolution displays in the FiVE lab and design studio, engineers and designers work together – here in Melbourne and with their counterparts elsewhere – to hone every aspect of Ford vehicles.”
Ford Australia’s long history of local manufacturing may be drawing to a close but the influence of its brightest and best engineers will be felt around the world for years to come.
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