Make no mistake about it: Ford Motor Co. is keenly focused on Industry 4.0, examining how and where to employ digital operations and advanced technologies to make the 117-year-old automaker better, more competitive and ever more resilient.
It’s a challenging undertaking, and Mike Mikula plays a key role in making it happen. Mikula is global chief engineer in Ford Motor Co.’s advanced manufacturing organization, and his responsibilities include introducing technology in practical ways to address both existing challenges as well as pursuing new ways to use advanced technologies.
On Dec. 3 Mikula will present a keynote address, titled Ford's Journey to Digital, at IndustryWeek’s Manufacturing & Technology Virtual, where he will discuss how Ford is leveraging its long history of continuous improvement to transform into a globally scaled digital operations ecosystem.
In advance of that presentation, Mikula shared his thoughts on a few questions presented to him by IW. Here are his responses.
IW: You have a solid operations background, including stints as a plant manager and assistant plant manager. How do you think that background helps you in the position you hold today, in which technology plays such a big role?
Mikula: I have spent time not only within operations, but have experience in all levels of operations, from production supervisor up to plant manager. This experience provides me with the opportunity to be more instinctive when evaluating the flow through value of technology solutions to the operations. It also provides me with perspective in respect to the adoption challenges that are tied to organizational culture and people skills.
IW: What is one way in which lean manufacturing, in which Ford and automotive are leaders, influences your thinking and decisions about how and/or where to employ technology?
Mikula: The training and experience I have around lean manufacturing has had a significant influence on how and when we decide to introduce displacing solutions. It is critical to lean a process out first, then leverage technology to further optimize. If you force a technology solution to displace an inefficient legacy method, you can inadvertently trap waste.
IW: What is the primary takeaway you would like to see audience members leave your keynote address with?
Mikula: Ford has been on the Industry 4.0 journey for several decades. We have an aligned vision around how Industry 4.0 will drive a competitive advantage around Ford’s relationships with people, including the customers, supplier partners, employees and distribution network.
IW: Have you ever decided to implement a technology and then discovered that it wasn’t going to work as projected? If yes, what did you learn from that effort?
Mikula: This is an incredibly dynamic time in our industry. In order to move at the speed necessary to be competitive, it is inevitable that you will have some ‘swing and misses.’ You need to be humble enough to recognize them when they happen to avoid investing finite resources into a low(er) or no value solution. Don’t dwell on why the results weren’t as worthwhile as expected. Focus on continuing to converge on your vision.
Photo caption: Ford was tapping four-legged robots at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant in early August to laser scan the plant. These robots can be deployed into tough-to-reach areas within the plant to scan the area with laser scanners and high-definition cameras.