Ford Motor Co. (www.ford.com) plans to use the Wi-Fi capability built into its cars to become the first automaker to wirelessly download so-called “infotainment” software to vehicles as part of the assembly process.
Ford said in an Aug. 26 news release that it plans to deliver its “Sync” software wirelessly to vehicles equipped with the new MyFord Touch driver connect technology as they are being built—an industry first, the company said. The new on-the-assembly-line Wi-Fi (for Wireless Fidelity) capability eliminates the need for building, stocking and storing multiple Sync hardware modules, thus reducing manufacturing complexity and saving cost, said the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker.
“Using wireless software installation via Wi-Fi, we can stock just one type of Sync module powering MyFord Touch and loaded with a basic software package,” explained Sukhwinder Wadhwa, Sync global platform manager. “We eliminate around 90 unique part numbers, each of which would have to be updated every time a change is made—this system really boosts quality control.”
Earlier in the year, Ford announced that the next-generation Sync system that powers MyFord Touch would feature a built-in Wi-Fi receiver. Now, Ford is further capitalizing on this in-car wireless connection by making communication between the vehicle and the assembly line a reality.
Oakville plant first
The Oakville, Ontario, assembly line that produces the 2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX will be the first to feature wireless access points for software installation, Ford said. In turn, the Edge and MKX will become the first vehicles to get their infotainment software installed via Wi-Fi while moving down the line. Ford is also targeting its Chicago Assembly Plant, which is building the 2011 Ford Explorer, for subsequent Wi-Fi installation capabilities. Plant locations throughout the world that will support the 2012 Ford Focus launch will soon follow.
Through July, hundreds of pilot vehicles were successfully moving through the Wi-Fi access point at Oakville. “Employees at the Oakville assembly plant helped us tremendously in getting the Wi-Fi process to work, and work perfectly,” said Wadhwa. “Turning an assembly plant—with steel beams everywhere and high-voltage cabling throughout; everything you could imagine that would interfere with a radio signal—into an access point that would achieve 100 percent success was a huge challenge. Oakville is our model for what we're doing next in Chicago, then into Europe for the new Ford Focus.”
Going wireless for software delivery addresses a number of manufacturing complexity and potential quality issues for Ford, as more and more features and services are added to Sync across multiple vehicle lines and continents. “As we began developing the different levels of MyFord driver connect technology, we grew increasingly concerned with the number of different hardware configurations we were going to have to keep on hand,” said Wadhwa.
Where engineers initially proposed unique Sync hardware modules for each possible vehicle configuration—resulting in more than 90 individual part numbers—Wi-Fi installation allows those different configurations to be stored as software on a computer server and wirelessly installed on a common, basic Sync hardware module as the vehicles are built. Through the Wi-Fi connection, Sync software options totaling as much as 300 megabytes of data can be installed and configured wirelessly, including:
• The addition of the Sync app traffic, directions and information in U.S. markets
• Market-appropriate languages for voice-activated commands and system prompts
• Option-specific graphics and icons for navigation, system information and instrument panel screens
• Unique system color schemes for MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch
• Units of measurement settings for fuel economy, speed and distance.
With the dual challenge of implementing a cutting-edge driver connect technology such as MyFord Touch and rolling that technology out to a global marketplace, Wi-Fi has been a key to rapid globalization of the Sync system, added Wadhwa. “Ford is developing and implementing world-class manufacturing techniques that are just as advanced as the vehicles they’re being used to build, and we’re scaling these techniques for use around the globe,” he concluded.