North America :INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: Moving at GT speed
By John Couretas/Special Correspondent John Couretas is a Caledonia, Mich., freelance writer.
Automotive News / June 30, 2003
When Ford Motor Co. unveiled the production version of its GT supercar this month, the company hailed the car as the authentic successor to the GT40 race car that won Le Mans glory in the 1960s.
The 2005 GT retains the lines of its ancestor. But it goes beyond that. It would not exist without the extensive use of computer-aided design and engineering tools.
Fred Goodnow, Ford GT design, engineering and launch manager, supervised the development of the first production versions of the car under an incredibly compressed schedule. He says the intensive use of information technology allowed Ford to accelerate a typical from-scratch vehicle development program from more than four years to two.
"We couldn't take 30 months out of the car otherwise," Goodnow says. Ford said that it would build a production version of the GT only 45 days after showing a non-working concept at the 2002 Detroit auto show. What's more, Ford (ford.com) brass ordered production versions to be ready in 16 months - just in time for the company's 100th anniversary party at world headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., beginning June 12.
Making matters even more harrowing for designers and engineers, the clean-sheet development of the GT would have to start with the exterior shape of the concept, a show car that the company says was only 5 percent "production feasible." Normally, a new vehicle is designed from the inside out; the exterior shape accommodates the interior and under-the-skin components. The GT would be designed, for all intents, backward.
The GT team leaned heavily on computer simulation to compress the first nine months of engineering work into about three months, Ford says. The accelerated early schedule meant that engineers would have to do with fewer prototypes, which are helpful for discovering design and assembly problems.
The first prototypes were built in less than 100 days after the program started.
Packaging often presents problems in the early stages of vehicle development as engineers work on the complex fit of mechanical systems, wiring, structure and passenger comfort. But the reliance on simulation proved successful. GT engineers could watch animated views of exploded, or magnified, parts and systems assemble themselves on the computer screen - with real-world accuracy. The GT's 5.4-liter V-8 and six-speed transaxle, for example, slipped into the chassis on the first try without a hitch, thanks to hours of testing the installation on computer screens.
For the interior, Ford used a virtual reality modeling device called "digital buck." The digital prototyping tool allows designers and engineers to get a virtual feel of an interior checking comfort for a range of body types and sizes - and to conduct design reviews on the computer screen without the time-consuming construction of clay models.
When Ford built a GT prototype, it lived up to its virtual promise. Goodnow says there "were not nearly the number of issues we would see at Ford on a first-level prototype. It's just incredible."
One of the knottiest problems the GT team faced was the cantilevered doors that cut into the roof. They were an authentic styling touch but an engineering puzzle.
The door shape, which opened a large section of roof, originally allowed race car drivers to jump into the car at the start of a race. But for a low-volume production car, the shape presented several significant problems. For starters, designing a window that could retract into the curvy shape of the GT door (the concept had fixed windows) looked near impossible. Finally, after a lot of simulations and give-and-take among various GT engineering factions, the exterior styling and some interior ergonomics were modified to make it work.
Then there were the doors themselves. The GT team was reluctant to use laborious coach-built methods, or a multipiece assembly that would have required a series of expensive stamping dies. So the crew settled on an advanced aluminum production process known as superplastic forming: Air pressure is used to force superheated panels onto a one-sided die.
That reduced the tooling costs dramatically. With the help of computer modeling, the GT team made one-piece inner and outer door panels, which were then sandwiched together like a clamshell. The result, Goodnow says, was a superior fit and finish that met the design requirements.
The GT design and development team was built on the Special Vehicle Team model: Combine a hand-picked group of top engineers from various Ford vehicle programs and surround them with supplier engineering expertise for key areas such as body, chassis, powertrain, trim and electrical.
Mayflower Vehicle Systems Inc. (mayf.co.uk), which has expertise building low-volume vehicles, had the responsibility for developing much of the car, including body, space frame, engineering and design, and full vehicle integration.
The British company, with offices in Farmington Hills, Mich., also created a custom IT network for the GT.
Jon Gunner, Ford GT engineering manager for Mayflower, says that the compressed development schedule required an IT system that could handle an exacting exercise in simultaneous engineering.
With a less compressed schedule, the car could have been designed and developed step by step. "This is definitely a first for a major company like Ford," he says.
Mayflower used a product data management system that created a Web-linked database that managed the torrent of drawings, documents, test data and change orders the vehicle program generated.
It also used specific tools, which let team members work on everything from photo-realistic surface rendering to crash simulation.
Rapid development projects such as the GT are becoming possible because software vendors are making their systems more open and useful for collaboration, says Susan Parran, associate editor with Desktop Engineering Magazine in Peterborough, N.H.
Automakers and other companies are demanding this IT flexibility. "We're seeing a lot of calls for collaboration technologies," Parran says.
The GT is expected to go into full production - about 1,500 units annually - next spring with a sticker of less than $150,000.
When that happens, Goodnow expects his team to return to their mainstream vehicle programs and share the lessons they learned.
Given the successful experience of the superfast development of the supercar, Ford hopes to move future models - or at least their development - at GT speed.
Name: Fred Goodnow
Title: Ford GT design, engineering and launch manager
Favorite Web sites: Ford.com, ferrari.com, fidelity.com
What he's reading/last book read: Mostly car magazines/last book was "Chuck Yeager: An Autobiography"
What kind of computer he uses: Dell (work)/HP (home)
Favorite technology of all time: Stereo lithography
Number of e-mails he receives daily: 50
Ford lopped nearly 30 months off of the ground-up development of the GT through the intensive use of digital design and engineering technology. Here are some of the important tools used during the project.
ENGINEERING AND DATA MANAGEMENT
Tool: Enovia DMU (IBM and Dassault Systemes)
For: Digital vehicle mockup
Tool: Enovia VPM (IBM and Dassault)
For: Product lifecycle management, bill of materials and data management
Tool: CATIA V4 (IBM and Dassault)
For: Engineering development, component design
Tool: EDS I-DEAS (EDS)
For: Engineering development and component design for powertrain, suspension and interior trim
DESIGN AND STYLING
Tool: Adobe Photoshop (Adobe Systems)
For: Design sketches
Tool: Alias AutoStudio (Silicon Graphics)
For: 3-D modeling
Tool: Opus Realizer (Opticore)
For: Photo-realistic rendering
Tool: ICEM Surf (ICEM)
For: Surface rendering, analysis
Tool: Pam-Stamp (IME Technology)
Tool: AutoForm (AutoForm Engineering)
For: Die face design and multistep stamping simulation
(Photo)The Ford GT team worked quickly to complete production versions of the car in time for the Ford centennial. The limited-edition vehicles will reach dealerships next year.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....