Monday, May 9th
Federal Mogul – Making the Switch To Electric A Tough Decision
It was an incredible experience today to examine the research and development at Federal Mogul, the American developer and manfacturer of powertrain components, today at their Plymouth technical center. After studying the role of pistons and spark plugs in the efficiency of an engine since the inception of the car, it was interesting to hear Mr. Kerri stress the importance of friction reduction and weight reduction in the future of their products. I was able to notice the efforts of Federal Mogul in this idea after touring their technical centers. In terms of the friction reduction, Federal Mogul researchers illustrated this with how they shape the pistons to limit friction and additionally lower the weight. The most fascinating sector of the technical center to me was what Federal Mogul believes will replace the spark plug as we know it in cars. The researcher introduced this replacement known as the corona by comparing it to your run of the mill spark plug. While they both produce a spark, the corona does so allowing the piston to start closer to the spark plug and eliminating some of the negative work brought on by the piston having to move up to the spark. While not being able to recall exact numbers, I believe that the corona would allow the piston to start around 20 degrees closer, thus making it much more efficient. This efficiency can be seen by the fact that a corona put into a car right now with no changes would make a car 5% more efficient. With newer engines catered towards these coronas, cars could be 20% more efficient. With electric cars entering the market right now with glowing fuel economy numbers, it is important that Federal Mogul continue to innovate to make it so that gasoline powered cars are not far behind.
The entire Federal Mogul technical center blew me away because of its precision. Each different room worked on seemingly minuscule aspects of a piston or spark plug yet are insanely important. For example a decrease in friction, weight, or other factor that increases the efficiency of a car to allow for another 0.5 mile would allow large shipping companies to save over $1 million per month. This example shows how important the intense research, testing, and retesting to improve these products is to the auto industry.
Todays visit to Federal Mogul was important to understand the relationships that large auto makers have with suppliers and the economic idea of specialization. One student in our class was wondering why auto makers do not do this research and production in house. Both Professor Smitka and Mr. Keri harped on the idea that it is better for a company like Ford to outsource this labor rather than have a few individuals work it out themselves. Federal Mogul is crucial to the auto industry and it was beneficial to tour their facilities today.
Tuesday, May 10th
The Rouge Plant, Henry Ford Museum, and Ford HQ
The rouge plant in Dearborn was certainly a site to see. What I found most interesting was the fact that they were able to convert many of the old buildings back when the plant was mass producing Model Ts and other early cars to now produce the modern Ford F-150. It is more and more common for companies with tons of capital to produce new plants in different locations, but Ford has stayed true to keeping their main plant in Dearborn, Michigan. While some of the buildings have become obsolete such as the steel manufacturing building which is not needed with the new all aluminum truck, a lot of the buildings are still used to full capacity. Another interesting aspect of the tour to me was the fact that many of the assembly workers work with thousands of people watching their every move. It does not seem like a pleasant job to have spectators watch your occupation. But, this idea of touring the plant and watching the workers is something that has been around for the entirety of the Ford plant. After exploring the Detroit Institute of Art and specifically Diego Rivera’s murals of the workers in the Ford plant, spectators can be seen watching them struggle in the tough conditions. Overall, the Ford plant was one of my favorite parts of the trip because the class and I got to see everything come together along the line. Prefacing the Ford Plant trip with Federal Mogul a day earlier, we got to see ideas come to reality in terms of the finished product of the new Ford F-150.
This was my second time at the Henry Ford Museum after experiencing it with my family a few summers before on my way up to Pointe Aux Barques in Northern Michigan. My trip to the museum this Tuesday was more beneficial, however, then the last time I was there. After studying the history of the automobile and the history of innovation of Henry Ford, the relics in the museum stood out to me much more. What I found interesting was the fact that the museum was not strictly a museum about automobiles, but a museum about the progression of innovation. We were exposed to all sorts of technologies of different time periods and were able to see how individuals like Henry Ford changed the entire landscape of technology in the 20th century.
Ford Headquarters was my favorite part so far of the trip to Detroit. There was something special about getting dressed up and sitting in a conference room where some important executives at Ford have debated about the ideas of the company. It was incredibly interesting meeting with Ford’s VP of Global Purchasing, Hau Thai-Tang. He was able to answer all of our questions effectively and was knowledgeable about every topic that was brought up. Additionally, I was intrigued about Hau Thai-Tang’s role at Ford. Ford is a giant company with over 119,000 employees and annual revenue of $149.5 billion. As the vice president of purchasing, one would think that Hau Thai-Tang would oversee strictly supplies for the cars and trucks that Ford produces. Instead, however, he mentioned that he covers everything from the food stocked in the vending machines, the toilet paper in the bathrooms, as well as the supplies that go into their driving machines. This wide array of duties made me think about what it takes to be an executive of a global conglomerate. Firstly and apparent from our brief meeting with Mr. Thai-Tang, is the ability to converse and work with other individuals. Sam Siegel blogged earlier this week about how Nissan was ranked last in terms of their relationship with suppliers. Much of this can be attributed to the individuals who work closely at Nissan with suppliers. In terms of Ford, Mr. Thai-Tang has to be a pleasant person and not rash or abrasive. After our meeting, I came out of the room genuinely enjoying his company. If I were a supplier such as Mr. Keri at Federal Mogul I would feel happy with negotiations between Ford and Federal Mogul.
Wednesday May 11th
The Fall of Detroit
After learning about the history of the car industry and Mr. Klier’s presentation on why the auto industry took off in the Detroit area, it was interesting to hear an economists explanation of the numerous reasons why Detroit was destined to fail. Ironically so, the dependance on the auto industry has caused its collapse over the 21st century. Unlike Chicago where many industries took root, Detroit’s protection of the auto industry and tunnel vision to bolster its production made it entirely dependent on the success of the auto industry as a whole. Examples of this can be seen with the ditching of the trolley system, a competitor of autos, as well as a lack of a rail system. This reliance on the auto industry’s success pulled Detroit under when the auto industry fell victim to the 2008 financial crisis. As we studied the graphs presented by the two economists, consumers investments fell during this period and thus purchases of cars fell. With a lack of demand, jobs were cut and the people of Detroit were left jobless. With a combination of other factors contributing to the collapse of the city and as Professor Smitka put it, “everything that could go wrong, went wrong”, Detroit is still left in shambles but is improving. One of the reasons that Detroit has not been able to rebound lately is because no one wants to live in the dilapidated city. Falling from a high of 1.8 million people living in the massive metropolis, now only about 600,000 people call Detroit home. It was interesting to hear the economist almost pitch to my classmates and I to live in Detroit citing a new hockey arena, luxurious restaurants, and improved bike lanes as reasons to inhabit. Yet, higher city taxes and a lack of a functioning transportation system still ravage the city.
A question that has been mulling in my head since the early morning talk at the Federal Reserve branch of Detroit is, “would Detroit have avoided all of these issues if the University of Michigan stayed in Detroit?” After enjoying my time in Detroit as well as Ann Arbor, I have noticed a significant disconnect between the two areas. Ann Arbor seems to be immune to the factors that have crippled Detroit. U of M seems to fuel Ann Arbor and allows the area to thrive unlike Wayne State in Detroit. In certain areas the two parts of Michigan look like different countries. If U of M stayed in Detroit way back when it first started would it have saved Detroit? I don’t believe so, but it would solve a problem that Detroit is struggling with: attracting millennials to the area. University of Michigan would not have a problem filling the school with educated young students who would fuel the local economy. While the University of Michigan would have not been able to fix Detroit’s reliance on auto manufacturing, it would mitigate other problems that lead to the bankruptcy of the Detroit city.
Thursday May 12th
The Death of a Car
Today we went to a recycling plant where totaled cars are purchased on auction and then scrapped to sell their parts to auto shops or dealerships. After experiencing just about everything in terms of the life of a car (the idea at Federal Mogul, the production at the Rouge Plant, the execution at Ford HQ, and the driving at UMTRI) it was interesting to see the end of a car’s lifespan. I never had known about this side of the auto industry. I have experienced auto service businesses after unfortunately getting in a wreck but this was all new to me. The man who ran the business explained to my classmates and me the process in which his business goes through. Starting with the electronic bidding at an auction house located right next to their yard, the cars are then passed on to be inspected and taken apart. During this scrapping period, the company assesses which items they can scrap for value and then adds them to their warehouse where they can be sold. Additionally, other totaled cars are kept out in the yard for customers to do their own scrapping at a discounted price. The yard looks like a barren wasteland with totaled cars spanning beyond sightline. The whole experience was new to me and it was an intriguing side of the auto industry that I am sure most aren’t aware of.
The Detroit Institute of Art and The Heidelberg Project
My classmates and I explored the arts of Detroit as well today. The first room we adventured into was Diego Rivera’s depiction of Henry Ford’s assembly line. Diego Rivera, a man of Communist beliefs, valued the life of the worker and portrayed this through his detailed graphics of the hard-working men in the plant. It was fascinating looking at the huge murals that spanned the whole wall of the large, open room. Later we moved to the Pop Culture art in the contemporary world section which featured a piece by Tyree Guyton, the artist most famous for creating The Heidelberg Project. His Rosa Parks sign hung proudly among the other wonderful art. When we met with him later, he seemed to be a man happy with his life. While some in the class saw his art as what it physically is, junk, Guyton believed that it is the truth. It was interesting to meet a man who believed to have the secret of life and he was certainly an inspiration to everyone within earshot. The Heidelberg Project is an interesting part of Detroit culture. Guyton’s work brings thousands of people to the area every year and as he stated, people from countries like Iceland and Russia come to see it too. This is important for an area like Detroit that needs the injection of people to fuel its economy. Guyton should be an inspiration the people of Detroit who are struggling in this tough economy because he grew up there and was able to make something out of his life. Tyree Guyton is an incredible figure in the community and while his art is quirky, it has drawn interest in an otherwise run down part of Detroit.
Friday, May 13th
Ohio Testing Facility
The testing and research facility we stopped at on the way back to Lexington was an incredible experience. After examining different parts of the industry from ideas to production it was interesting to see one of the last parts of research: the testing of the actual car. Located near a Honda plant, the Ohio Testing Facility had everything. As we travelled amongst the grounds, the manager informed us of a 7.5 mile banked track to test speed and performance as well as different road surfaced areas and certain degreed hills. The whole area was interesting to me because I realized the grounds that we were on was home to testing and research done by just about every car company I know of. The car I drive, a 2016 Ford Escape, probably was tested for its brake on the skid pad while experiencing 50 mph crosswinds. In this day and age, every aspect of a car needs to be tested and examined in order to develop a finished project. This Ohio Testing Facility allows for just about anything you could think about in a car to be tested. As a business it has grown a lot from a fledgling research institute developed for only $13 million. The area now has over 20 buildings and thousands of acres of land to fit their new invested capital. This testing facility will continue to be an important step in the development of cars and with a plan for a new autonomous car track much like that at UMTRI, the future of cars lay in the hands of ideas tested on the grounds we got to examine.