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Ford Partners with Universities for Global Research Projects

Some of the world's brightest university professors and students are pairing up with Ford scientists in 2010 to explore a wide range of new ideas and technologies that could benefit future Ford vehicle development.

This year, Ford awarded 13 University Research Program (URP) grants to 12 different universities around the globe, including Wayne State University in Detroit; Stanford University in Palo Alto, California; RWTH Aachen University in Aachen, Germany; and Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.

The newly added three-year collaborative research projects are all championed by Ford research teams and vary in scope from testing the properties of thermoplastics modified with nano materials and developing an in-vehicle safety alert system for diabetic drivers, to studying the environmental and economic impact of batteries for electric vehicles.

The new Ford URP projects add to an active research portfolio that now comprises 30 studies in partnership with 26 universities globally.

"Research collaborations are a driving force behind the innovations bringing consumers to Ford – and will be crucial to keep them coming back," said Gerhard Schmidt, Ford chief technical officer and vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering. "The spirit of collaboration fostered by initiatives such as the Ford University Research Program maximizes our chances of developing relevant technologies our customers want and value."

Relevant innovation

In recent years, Ford has fine-tuned the objective of URP, moving away from more exploratory and long-term university research to highly collaborative projects focused on innovations with more near- and mid-term implementation potential. This move has made competition for URP grants much tougher, according to Ed Krause, external alliances manager for Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. For the recently announced program, Ford reviewed more than 70 high-quality project proposals, yet only approved 13.

"As our scientists and engineers have become increasingly adept at innovating with their university counterparts, the quality of proposals has risen and the interest in awards has become more intense," said Krause.

Over the past two decades, URP projects have produced fruitful results for Ford in a wide range of disciplines that include alternative power systems; automotive engineering and safety; environmental issues; infotronics, electrical and electronics and controls; materials and structures; manufacturing and quality; and powertrain.

In the late 90s, Ford awarded the University of Illinois an URP to study how to control and reduce diesel emissions, specifically NOx levels. That joint research was critical to the development of the aftertreatment system now featured on the 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 turbocharged diesel powering the 2011 Super Duty, which complies with new 2010 federal regulations to reduce NOx levels by more than 80 percent.

Strategic Alliances

Ford's overarching desire to collaborate with academia and other tech industry outsiders has also led to the formation of formal and ongoing strategic alliances with research and innovation leaders such as MIT, the University of Michigan, Northwestern and The Boeing Company, which has been in an active strategic alliance with Ford for more than 15 years.

In recent years, Ford has invested more than $100 million in total in these advanced collaborative research efforts, resulting in numerous technical advancements and intellectual properties.

University of Michigan Professor Jessy Grizzle, who has been conducting engine and emissions control research with Ford through the University of Michigan strategic alliance for years, says the collaborative spirit of such an alliance provides a rich learning experience for the students as well as the professors as they explore new and intuitive ways to teach their curriculum.

"I've been working with students and strong engineers at Ford for nearly 25 years developing rich, relevant and practical solutions that can help minimize the environmental impact of transportation," said Grizzle, who has co-authored 16 patents with Ford. "From a university perspective, the discovery process and seeing your research come to life through real hardware implementation is extremely rewarding in and out of the classroom."

Ford has also branched out globally, forming similar formal alliances with three of China's most prestigious and recognized universities, Shanghai Jiaotong University (SJTU), Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (NUAA) , and Chongqing University, where joint work with aluminum alloys and other advanced materials is currently underway – and seven URP projects are being conducted.

Ford has further bolstered its commitment to more university collaboration this year, already opening the door for the next URP competition. Ford researchers, working with university faculty, have begun submitting their project proposals. Grant winners will be announced in early 2011.


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