It’s not always you hear about truck engineering and sailing in the same sentence. In a post in the mlive Michigan blog, writer Michael Wayland profiles Ford “human factors engineer” Cary Diehl and how his sailboat racing background helps him do his job. There’s no doubt Diehl’s a racer, this is how the piece concludes: “And when Diehl was offered the position, one of the things he asked was to be out of the office at least one night a week for sailing.” Original post here. –KH
GROSSE ILE, MI- Sailing is a sport of technique and attention to detail. Every movement of the boat or change in the sails can alter speed and trajectory.
Cary Diehl, who has been sailing since he could stand, knows what it takes to win races – from boat preparation to customizing lines and handles for optimal use.
“When things are more efficient, you win races,” he said before a joy ride on his S2 7.9 sailboat “Gauntlet” around Grosse Ile, Mich.
The 31-year-old’s attention to detail, as obscure as it may sound, has helped millions of pickup truck owners handle their vehicles safely and efficiently.
Diehl is a human factors engineer at Ford Motor Co., where he has spent the majority of his career specialized in pickup trucks. It’s his job to make sure every knob in the vehicle’s cabin and every exterior feature – from tailgate to gas cap – performs as best as possible for customers.
“It’s all about being efficient,” said Diehl, who has owned almost as many trucks as he has sailboats. “Making sure the ergonomics is right like I’ve been doing my entire life as I set up race boats, it’s kind of the same task just applied to the truck.”
Diehl’s most recent project was the 2015 F-150 – the most important vehicle in Ford’s lineup that many have bench marked as a game changerfor the automotive industry.
The upcoming full-size pickup – to be produced in Michigan and Missouri – is arguably one of the most important vehicles in decades. Besides F-Series being the best-selling vehicle in America for 32 years, the nearly all-aluminum body of the F-150 pickup marks the introduction of aluminum vehicles to the masses.
And, of course, it has to be one of the most functional vehicles on the road for customers, many of which use the vehicles for work and play.
“It’s critical,” said Karl Brauer, Kelley Blue Book senior analyst, in a recent phone interview. “Truck owners ‘live’ in their vehicles more than any other vehicle owner. It’s a utility device as much or more than a personal transportation device.”
Brauer said customers may not be able to always tell you what they like about a vehicle, but they usually tell you what they don’t want. “To me, that’s the difference between development of a new car and innovation: Figuring out what people want before they’ve asked for it,” Brauer said.
That’s where Diehl’s sailing experience and attention to detail comes into play.
For the 2015 F-150, Diehl and his team used countless computer simulations and customer testing to put things in the right place and proportion. Every inch of the interior was specifically designed to be comfortable and efficient – from placement of the cup holders and armrests to climate and towing controls.
“Our job is completely customer driven. No one notices good ergonomics. They only notice bad ergonomics,” said Diehl, a truck owner of more than 14 years. “When we hear nothing, we know we did everything right.”
A few specific details in the cabin include molding the driver door window armrest to fit an arm; grouping like controls together; seamless door handles big enough for use with a glove, but small enough for everyday drivers; and ensuring limited button reflections and glare from the sun.
Like with sailing, Diehl said everything should be at the drivers’ fingertips, which is why the glove box handle is designed to be in reach of the driver and engineers increased the size of the shifter knob so drivers can reach the center stack controls.
Ford, Brauer said, has a history of getting the interior ergonomics of a vehicle correct and he doesn’t expect anything less from the next-generation F-150, which is scheduled to be in showrooms late this year.
“Interior ergonomics is certainly something they can’t forget about,” he said. “That’s an area they know they have to get right, and they’ve got a history of getting right so it’s not really a concern.”
The attention to detail continues to exterior features of the pickup truck, which Ford engineers have secretly been working on since at least 2008.
Customers may not notice the exterior tweaks as much as the interior, but they range from a new hood latch design for easy opening to new cleats in the pickup’s bed that are designed like those used to tie down boats.
“It’s a whole new platform so we had a fresh slate to take all the lessons learned and apply them,” said Diehl, who holds master’s degrees in ergonomics and product development. “It’s just the next logical step. It’s exciting to see that we can focus on these details.”
Other details include making sure the towing plug is near the license plate light instead of under the vehicle for easy use; optimizing the side foot step; an aerodynamically designed gas lid; and an enhanced tailgate system with the built-in tailgate step that has been simplified to two pieces with a nonskid surface.
The tailgate, Diehl said, also is specifically designed to be operational with one hand because most people are carrying something in one hand when opening the back.
Diehl destined for design, Ford
Diehl, who spent the first eight years on his life on Florida’s Gulf Coast, was arguably destined for his current job.
As a son of a car designer and avid sailor, Diehl spent many non-sailing Saturdays in the studio with his dad drawing people and cars. And when they sailed, Diehl says he was always competitive.
Diehl’s grandfather also worked for Ford for more than 30 years, so Ford was already in their family.
“Ford was always one of my hotlinks when I was looking for a job,” said Diehl, who turned down a job with Boeing to go to graduate school for ergonomics. “I always thought it would be really cool to do ergonomics for car design at Ford.”
And when Diehl was offered the position, one of the things he asked was to be out of the office at least one night a week for sailing.