Alumna’s idea evolves into global solution
As the digital revolution was in full swing during the 1990s, many large manufacturing companies including Ford Motor Co. still used a paper trail instead of an optimized digital option. For Ford, this paper trail documented every stage of a vehicle being built before sendoff. In 1995, engineering alumna Laura Heimann Bryant ’89, ’90, recognized an opportunity to evolve this process both locally and globally.
“I’ve been blessed to have great management who believed in me,” Bryant said. “I remember saying, ‘I have an idea but I’m not sure how it will be done,’ and there were people who encouraged me to try and figure it out.”
With help from a global team, Bryant “figured it out” and developed Ford’s Quality Leadership System – Vehicle Operations (QLS-VO), piloted locally in the Kentucky Truck Plant. This system revolutionized the previous paper system, establishing a computerized process that could log every step of the vehicle’s life before it was shipped from the facility. The QLS-VO mitigated much of the human margin of error while also allowing each production department to see the full status of a vehicle with just a glance at the device computer screen.
This system is now the standard at all global Ford Assembly Plants, and Bryant has helped implement the systematic process across the globe. Some challenges in such a large-scale project included the creation of a “global quality dictionary” into the system that could recognize many languages and translate it into the specific plant’s requested language.
“What has turned into a great benefit for the company is the idea that Plant A in Germany is able to talk to Plant B in Mexico for a common vehicle product using their own languages,” Bryant said. “It was one of my hardest challenges with the system, and many people thought it wouldn’t work.”
Naysayers for Bryant’s idea back then can now see QLS-VO in over 30 Global Assembly Plants throughout the world. What used to be a paper trail has evolved into an advanced computer system, thanks to Bryant and her focus on innovation. Almost 30 years later and after a retirement announcement, Bryant will still serve as a consultant for the next step of the system’s lifecycle.
“It’s like audio systems in a car; we started with AM and FM radio, then we went to cassettes, CDs and now other electronics in the vehicle,” Bryant said. “I think that’s the same thing with this quality process; we can continue to be that much better on manufacturing quality.”