Not too far from where factory workers assemble Ford cars and trucks, analytics experts in the company’s Research and Innovation Center are building something entirely different but equally important: complex mathematical models to help Ford sharpen its competitive edge while limiting its environmental impact.
Launched 15 years ago as a small cadre of researchers, the group’s size and impact on Ford has grown considerably while its mission is unchanged – chart a path for the company to a cleaner, brighter, better world and stronger business.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ford now ranks among the greenest brands in the world,” said John Viera, global director of sustainability and vehicle environmental matters. “The company’s investments in the field of big data analytics have continually increased during the last 15 years.”
Viera outlined Ford’s use of analytics and big data as part of a panel discussion today at the 2013 Net Impact conference in San Jose, Calif.
The group, comprised of scientists, mathematicians, computer modelers and other researchers, uses the latest in analytics and big data to discover ways to minimize Ford’s environmental impact and bolster its bottom line by identifying potential risks and opportunities. Here are some examples of the work the group has accomplished:
- Fuel economy: Developed a science-based model that projects CO2 emissions generated by the fleet of vehicles on roads worldwide for the next 50 years, helping Ford set aggressive fuel economy targets yet remain eco-conscious
- Power of choice: Used science and math to show that one particular form of alternative engine power is unlikely to emerge above all others, helping to make the case for a diversified portfolio of powertrains ranging from EcoBoost®engines, hybrid and plug-in hybrid technologies, flex-fuel, all-electric, biodiesel, CNG and LPG
- New features: Created sophisticated mathematical models that optimize millions of possible vehicle combinations to give decision makers the tools to construct an eco-conscious and cost-effective global technology roadmap, resulting in green products such as Ford Auto Start-Stop
- Customer value: Developed specific tools such as the Ford Fleet Purchase Planner, an analytical system that helps fleet customers match their vehicle choices to their needs while helping save money and the planet
Ford considers analytics and big data – in and out of vehicles – the next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity. The company continues to expand its use of big data as more and better technologies, methodologies and datasets emerge.
Consider the plug-in hybrid Ford Fusion Energi. The vehicle generates about 25 gigabytes of data every hour; those data are useful for further improvements in fuel economy and vehicle emission reductions. Yet, Ford researchers are already experimenting with vehicles that generate 10 times that much data – 250 gigabytes – per hour.
Some other areas Ford is exploring for green analytics potential:
- Green routing, which optimizes driving routes to reduce a vehicle’s impact on local air quality in specific locations, such as near hospitals, schools and in high density residential areas
- Statistical analysis of vehicle usage data to provide insight into consumer acceptance of electric vehicles and the electrification of personal transportation
- Optimal use of current and future biofuels
- Demand and availability of strategic materials used in powertrains, including rare earth elements, lithium and platinum group metals
- Life-cycle analysis tools aimed at measuring energy and water use – along with greenhouse gas emissions – associated with alternative fuels and materials
- Further expanding the number of environmentally friendly components in Ford vehicles
“There are so many amazing possibilities to consider for the future impact of data,” said Viera. “The possibilities are not only exciting, they are, in fact, almost endless.”