Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

Ford Motor Co. will roll out its new Ford Work Solutions, a collection of new technologies and “smart” features designed for its commercial customers, this fall on the ’09 F-150, F-Series Super Duty pickup and E-Series vans.

The upcoming Transit Connect commercial van will be offered with the package in mid-2009.

Ford Work Solutions consists of an in-dash computer with Internet access; “Tool Link,” a radio-frequency identification system (RFID) for tools and other supplies; “Crew Chief,” a fleet telematics and diagnostic system; and “Cable Lock,” a security system used to tether large, expensive tools to the truck.

Mark Fields, president-The Americas, says Ford Work Solutions is not just about “selling hardware and products,” but rather “selling solutions” to commercial customers to help them become more productive

“Think about what IBM (Inc.) did 10 years ago when they went from solely a hardware business to selling total solutions to make their customers more productive and profitable. That’s really our focus here,” Fields tells journalists during a preview of products Ford will unveil this week at the Chicago auto show.

The in-dash computer component of Ford Work Solutions was developed in conjunction with Magneti Marelli SpA and is powered by Microsoft Auto, the same software that runs Ford’s Sync in-vehicle multimedia system. It is equipped with a 6.5-in. (16.5-cm) high-resolution touch screen, two gigabytes of memory, a digital slot for additional memory, a USB port and a wireless keyboard and mouse.

The computer accesses the Internet via the Sprint Mobile Broadband Network and offers navigation by telecommunications company Garmin International Inc. Features include re-routing due to construction or traffic congestion and directions to points of interest, such as gas stations and restaurants.

The system allows customers to print invoices, check inventories and access documents stored on their home or office computers while on the jobsite, Ford says.

Hands-free calling via a Bluetooth wireless connection is included.

Developed with DeWalt Industrial Tool Co. and ThingMagic Inc., Tool Link enables users to mark tools with RFID tags. When the vehicle is running, a pair of RFID antennas mounted inside the pickup box can scan the box for the items on a pre-programmed inventory list.

The data is transmitted to a reader mounted inside the cab and displayed on the in-dash computer, alerting the driver if an inventoried tool is not loaded on the truck, Ford says.

“Tool Link increases productivity and saves money,” says William Frykman, Ford Work Solutions product and business development manager. “It helps contractors and tradespeople guarantee they show up at the jobsite with the right tools for each job.”

For fleet owners and managers who need to dispatch work crews quickly, Crew Chief provides a telematics and diagnostic system that delivers real-time vehicle location and maintenance tracking, allowing for the optimal deployment of fleets.

Data generated by Crew Chief can be accessed anywhere there is Internet availability.

Crew Chief interacts with the vehicle and can monitor various diagnostic functions, including tire-pressure or check-engine-light codes. It can be programmed to identify user-set alerts, such as unauthorized use of the vehicle or excessive idling, Ford says. It also provides fuel calculations and fuel-tax reporting to help manage costs more effectively.

Cable Lock, developed with Master Lock Co. LLC, consists of an 8-ft. (2.4-m), 0.4-in. (10-mm) steel cable wrapped in a protective sheath with a cuff-style clasp at the end. The self-retractable cable is stored in a housing mounted to the inside wall at the rear of the pickup box and can be woven around toolbox handles and other items for security.

Ford Work Solutions “essentially helps customers manage their fleets more efficiently and track and secure tools, which is very important to our customers in the trades,” Fields says. “And it also helps our customers serve their customers better and faster.”