Ford Advances Inventive Creativity Through its TechShop Partnership

Detroit-area workshop and fabrication studio helps to increase Ford inventions by 30 percent.


TechShop Detroit

TechShop Detroit offers the tools Ford employees need to innovate.

Think “Ford” and you may immediately call to mind a number of products including this brand’s F-150 pickup truck line, the Fusion sedan or a host of other models including the Taurus sedan, Explorer crossover and, of course, Mustang. Some people know that the Ford Motor Company is also a technological company, having partnered with Microsoft in 2008 to bring SYNC technology to its vehicles. That technology has been improved and now includes MyFord Touch, the latest iteration of its in-car communication and entertainment system.

Innovation Pool

“…a strategic bond to spur creativity….”

Beyond infotainment, every Ford vehicle is comprised of thousands of parts, many that were conceived in-house and carry patents. Indeed, Ford’s portfolio of existing and pending patents currently numbers more than 17,000 worldwide, a number that is certain to increase rapidly as the company seeks to drive innovation through its partnership with TechShop, a membership-based workshop located on Ford property in Dearborn, Mich., a suburb of Detroit.

TechShop is a Menlo Park, Calif., company that was founded in 2006. With five locations in California, Michigan and North Carolina, the company provides workshops where people can come in, use its equipment and tools, and make something. Its equipment ranges from sheet metal equipment and sewing machines to hand tools, machinery and plastics. Complex computer equipment is available too including 2D/3D CAD tools. Instructors are on hand to offer guidance.


TechShop Detroit

Ford employees gain access to tools they probably would not own to innovate.


Spirit of Innovation

Ford provided the location for TechShop to open in Michigan, as a way to encourage its own employees to embrace innovation. Founder Henry Ford built his first motorized vehicle in his own backyard shed and the company continues to harness Henry’s spirit of innovation through Ford Global Technologies, its intellectual property team.

Ford Global Technologies offers an Employee Patent Incentive Award program to encourage employee innovation and reward inventors accordingly. People who submit an invention worthy of patent consideration gain a free three-month membership to TechShop Detroit. Memberships typically cost $125 per month, thus eligible employees save $375.

Ford Global Technologies

Bill Coughlin, CEO of Ford Global Technologies worked with Ford Land, a commercial real estate company and wholly owned subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company. Coughlin heads up the domestic auto industry’s only intellectual property team with a licensing arm, helping to advance innovation among Ford engineers.

Said Coughlin, “Innovation and invention are at the core of Ford Motor Company. When I heard about TechShop and how they are inspiring and helping a new generation of inventors, I had to find a way to lure them to Detroit. Not only is it a great opportunity for the community, but it will be a strategic tool to spur creativity and new ideas within the Ford engineering community to help us continue to build our intellectual property portfolio.”

Coughlin believes that Ford will see approximately 2,000 incentive memberships awarded to company employees this year. Year to date, invention submissions are up 30 percent over 2011, as Ford employees conceive ideas and provide an inventive solution.


TechShop Detroit

An early May open house allowed inventors to showcase their DIY projects.


Inventor Compensation

Besides engineers, Ford says that designers and scientists who work in the auto industry are among those that are taking their ideas and inventing new products. Ford may use these inventions in future vehicles or license them to other companies. Inventors are compensated, but the company doesn’t release specific financial information. Coughlin told Wards Auto that repeat inventors can fare quite well, receiving enough compensation to pay for their “retirement villa.”

Among the Ford employees who signed up with TechShop Detroit is John Jaranson, a technical specialist. Jaranson has a talent for making things work well and look cooler, using his skills in a research lab focused on improving car seats.

Jaranson’s patents are related to making car seats thinner and lighter, without sacrificing comfort. He signed up for TechShop last December and soon developed a copper shield used to protect the walls of his cottage that he heats with a wood-burning stove. Jaranson’s decorative cattail plant design matches the fauna found in the river that runs behind his cabin.

Jaranson and team members recently developed an adjustable kick plate from laser-cut plastic, assembling it at TechShop and bringing it to the lab where it is used for ingress/egress research. Ford’s partnership with TechShop not only provides an avenue for invention, but can bring forth a host of new products for personal and business application.


TechShop Detroit

TechShop enables members to exercise creativity with this fellow showing off his bass.

Photos courtesy of the Ford Motor Company.