Techniques inspired by Ford are being used at Europe’s biggest cancer-treatment facility, while the hospital’s big-data techniques are helping the automaker explore future vehicles.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Mike Butler, quality director at the Ford assembly plant in Cologne, Germany, was fascinated by the process through which patients were treated. He also saw an opportunity to introduce practices from the car factory to make the system run more efficiently.

Working with colleagues at the plant, Butler researched and proposed changes now being implemented at the cancer unit.

The unlikely collaboration developed into a two-way flow of ideas, as hospital staff at the Center for Integrated Oncology at the University of Cologne – one of Germany’s leading cancer treatment centers – are bringing their experience of working with big data to use on Ford’s research into future vehicles.

Butler, now in remission from colon cancer, spent five years in treatment rooms and thought about how he could make life easier for patients.

“There was a real light-bulb moment when I realized that many of the systems that ensure car plants run smoothly could be applied to the hospital,” he says in a statement.

“Now there is an ideas exchange that is benefiting patients today, and could also help the way we move tomorrow. The more we work together, the more synergies we find between our work at Ford and the challenges faced in cancer research.”

Medical staff were first shown in 2008 the advanced technologies and processes that have helped make the Ford Fiesta Cologne plant one of the world’s most efficient.

A team of 10 to 15 Ford engineers met hospital administrators as well as patients, nurses and doctors, and the collaboration blossomed from there.

Designed to make treatment less stressful and faster, colored lines on walls and floors help make it easier for staff, patients and visitors to find their way around. Large screens help simplify communication between key medical employees.

The Ford team also proposed flexible rooms with removable dividers rather than rigid wards and fixed nursing stations. This has contributed to a 30% improvement in patient flow.

Meanwhile, the medical teams are advising Ford on the processes they use to conceive and develop completely different approaches to tackling cancer.

Ford has adopted this outside-the-box thinking in relation to future vehicles and new technologies.

OIC Director Michael Hallek says medicine is an ever-changing science where small changes have a huge impact on patients’ lives.

“With Ford’s help, we are making huge improvements that will benefit the lives and treatment of future patients for years to come,” he says. “Hopefully, some of our methods of doing things will help Ford to develop what mobility might look like in the future.”