Wi-fi capabilities hit the assembly line on new Ford models

It’s a first for the automobile industry. Ford is using Wi-Fi provisioning on its assembly line to wirelessly deliver its SYNC software to vehicles equipped with the new “MyFord Touch” driver-connect technology as they are being built. This eliminates the need for building, stocking, and storing multiple SYNC hardware modules – thus reducing manufacturing complexity and saving cost.

“Using wireless software installation via Wi-Fi, we can stock just one type of SYNC module powering MyFord 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.”

An Ontario assembly line , which produces the 2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, will be the first to feature wireless access points for software installation. 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 the Chicago Assembly Plant, which is building the automaker’s 2011 Ford Explorer. Plant locations throughout the world that support the 2012 Ford Focus will follow.

“Employees at the Oakville assembly plant helped us tremendously in getting the Wi-Fi process to work, and work perfectly,” said Sukhwinder. “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 complexities and potential quality issues.

“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 Sukhwinder. Through the Wi-Fi connection, SYNC software options totaling as much as 300 megabytes of data can be installed and configured wirelessly, including units of measurement settings for fuel economy, speed and distance.

“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,” Sukhwinder said.