Ford’s new ICC is an innovation in ergonomics, styling and engineering. It not only looks like a work of art, but also takes all the hard work out of navigating and searching for the right buttons to warm you up or cool you down.

With subtle backlighting, soft feel controls, gentle chimes and tactile pips, the system is a beautifully crafted module showcasing an intelligent approach to function and design.

Perfectly positioned within what is a complex and sophisticated interior, the new ICC has been engineered and styled to control all of the secondary functions of the Ford BA Falcon vehicles.

Interior Design Manager and ICC team leader at Ford's Research Centre in Melbourne, Marcus Hotblack is rightly proud of the design, having created the finishing touches that enhance the rest of the interior.

"Traditionally most cars have what I call a ladder system for these functions,” Hotblack explained. “The radio, the climate control and the vents and the audio units slot in to various compartments, while off the shelf units can also be used. 

"This approach requires a host of switches that may be located on another panel which means all car interiors look the same. With the ICC everything is built in.” 

The ICC features backlighting which gives a soft glow to the controls. Night-time illumination is manifested as a blue or green glow in some models and white on premium models.

Ford's Colour and Trim Design Manager Sharon Gauci describes the finishes as simple and uncomplicated: “We chose metallic paint on the main portion of the design in order to highlight the linework and chamfers of the unit.” 

Gauchi suggests the satin chrome finish on buttons and switches is in keeping with the technical look of current product design while the colour change provides a visual point of difference for the functional elements of the unit. Translucent plastic has been designed for the entry series, which aids in the glow of night-time illumination.

Hotblack believes the symmetry of the unit is one of the most attractive features for drivers. “The configuration of the ICC isn't purely symmetrical, it is positioned on a surface that twists towards the driver, so the design team had to work hard to create a perception of perfect symmetry. 

"We realised we could develop a much better driver orientation for the consumer by having one unit. This meant we had to integrate all the controls, place a screen high up, providing greater readability and ensuring everything was in a position that assisted the driver.

"It wasn't a series of the traditional slots and block-style compartments, which are very confusing. Instead we set out to rationalise the information and simplify it visually so that we ended up with a sleek appearance as well as a unit that was much easier to use, in fact intuitive to use.

"We chose a TFT (thin film transistor) screen which gives a full colour display not dissimilar to the flat screens you get in video cameras. It enabled us to install our full satellite navigation system in the high series models. So we could have a map on screen and then tile windows drop in for other functions, like climate or audio."

Styling

Designed to integrate into all levels of the Ford BA Falcon range with two basic variants, from the premium level, Fairmont and Fairmont Ghia down to the standard entry level XT and XR Falcons as well as the range of utilities, the ICC features some very clever detailing and well-researched functions.

“We really wanted something that was totally integrated and gave a streamlined but flowing look. All of the interior surfaces were facing up to look at the driver and occupants, so the module was designed to suit this very positive aesthetic,” explained Hotblack.

“While we wanted to maximise the technical feel, and use 'restrained European elegance', we did not want to be too minimalist. Our research had shown that minimalism wouldn't, on its own, connect with our customer.

“Our research also suggested that the customer appreciated flowing lines but we still had to keep the architecture 'crisp and taut’. It had to be cohesive with the rest of the interior and exterior.

“To try and make this work, we attempted to create the feel of a high end European audio system. It is well ordered, easy to use and simple, but has a pleasing quality about it. Everything that the driver needs to control basically comes up on the screen.”

A series of visual on screen ‘tiles’ were designed and developed to imitate an on-screen ‘personal computer’ aesthetic. These appear as overlays to guide the user through the controls. 

The remote control is satin chromed, softly curved and compact. Integrated within the system, it fits like the final piece of jewellery to finish off a perfect outfit.

According to Hotblack, the display screen was designed with safety in mind and therefore could not be too distracting.

“We made it as easy to use as possible and had to place it correctly in terms of ergonomics, so that the driver is concentrating on the road rather than playing with all the controls provided. We’ve made the font and type size in the display easy to read while driving.” 

The crisp, easy to read LED lighting with different colours depending on the model, also allow for bright daytime screen colour-ways which then automatically reverse out the display when the driving lights are switched on at night. So you won't see a driver with a lit up face at night driving a BA Falcon!

Some of the control elements have musical ‘humour’ including subtle chimes to indicate when the driver has failed to fasten a seat belt. An image of the Sydney Opera House appears when using the 'hall' audio function. Hotblack explains that the chimes and sounds were carefully chosen to be subtle and not annoying like some competitors.

The front panel of the unit is moulded from NorylTM and painted or satin chromed where required. The chrome finish prevents scuffing and scratching and gives a soft, comfortable feel.

There are tactile 'pips' on the switches to guide the user through the controls and the vent adjustment has also been given a soft feel rubber finish with subtle but smart graphics.

According to Hotblack, the initial concept was developed using computer sketching and clay modelling over a period of six months.

"The ICC is a product in its own right but certainly a lot of electronics and thought has gone into it,” he said.

“Once we thought we had the right layout we started playing around with the best location for buttons. We did a lot of research with mini clinics and we would have had forty people or more through, giving feedback. We would then co-ordinate the responses until we came up with something that we really thought was foolproof." 

The greatest challenge for Hotblack and his team was designing the ICC so that it blended with the very complex interior design of the vehicle.

“The cockpit and the cluster is a very complex product in its own right. You ask people what do they think of the interior and they will say something like ‘the display was great’ and tend not to comment on the overall ambience, which is really the fundamental feature of the interior. The message is that ergonomics and appearance are primary and they cannot distract too much.

“The steering wheels feature a lot of controls and have many ergonomic constraints while the doors are enormously complicated because they have window lift switches and glass running up them. We need to get all of the ergonomics and the appearance right and then create storage features and get the quality right for the manufacture and assembly to work.”

Much of the hard work in the engineering and design of the ICC is hidden from the customer. The ICC is composed of functional hardware modules that form the building blocks of the different ICC variants. Each of the building blocks are interchangeable and software compatible.  

“With the climate control system, which is mostly hidden, the design and quality of the vents are like icons of the engineering and what is happening behind.”

A unique feature of the climate control system on the high series vehicles is the ability for the driver to set a different temperature to that preferred by a passenger.

“People aren't usually aware of it, but between the console and the engine is this huge mass of electronics, valves and blowers,” Hotblack explained: “And then there’s the gearshift and the seats, which take a substantial amount of work to get the comfort and the appearance right, along with the various trim levels.

“If you look at BA Falcon high series vehicles we have an oval clock. It is one standard clock iconic of a Ford high series car, the oval links well with the Ford badge.

“So there are a lot of little products that we are working on but you have to be able to join them all together and integrate them as one – it's like harnessing them. 

“I liken it to an orchestra… you don't really want any soloists; they have all got to come together to make a nice piece of music." 

The Ford team believes a significant factor in the success of the ICC was its decision to team with Sumitomo.

“A product's success is not just in the product itself but in the people who are involved in making it… Sumitomo were very flexible and really worked to get the essence of what we wanted,” Hotblack said.

“The close liaison and excellent working relationship between both parties has meant we were able to develop the electronics so that the whole unit slides in to the assembly as one unit. It has a big 'multiplug' at the back and it just slots in.

“The ICC has been very successful in reducing the assembly time and complexity. But more importantly it has been a big hit with our customers; they are really appreciating what we have put into the unit in terms of ergonomics and layout, and elegant flowing lines of the instrument panel and console.

“In designing the screen tiles and the on-screen graphics we wanted to ensure that the philosophy was carried through. Sumitomo worked with us on the technology, which included a lot of liaising with Japan to refine what we wanted.”

Ford’s Senior Project Engineer, Ray Vella, says the innovation in the Interior Command Centre stems from the need for more driver information as well as the desire for more advanced comfort features such as audio and heat controls and now television and video systems.

“With all the options available these features fight each other for the premium ergonomic and safe package space on the instrument panel,” he said.

“The focus of the ICC was to integrate the interfaces of the comfort/driver information systems. Features have priority over the display when required and free the display for other features when they have priority.

"For example, a navigation unit can dominate the screen for five percent of vehicle use and the comfort feature can dominate the rest of the time. In each case, the feature is displayed in the optimal location and the driver only needs to look in one direction.”

Vella says the flexibility available to Ford in building the modules of the ICC to suit various models is not only successful with consumers but provides a key competitive advantage.

“While the switches and display are integrated, in our case, the functions are modularised. Modules can be changed to produce variants, which works well in the low series end where we can offer features usually only available on high end vehicles for a fraction of the cost.”

Vella said Sumitomo was an ideal partner in the engineering of the ICC as the company had excellent knowledge of Ford and its customers: “They have a respected and proven capacity to deliver technically and commercially.”

Anthony O’Connell, IT Manager at Sumitomo Australia, recognised the challenge presented by Ford – to bring the cost of the overall components down but also increase the level of craftsmanship and quality for the customer.

O’Connell said the long association with Ford and the unique skills of the engineering and electronics team at Sumitomo placed the company in an ideal situation to develop and deliver the requirements of the new ICC.

“It was our job to integrate all the components, to consider the space we had available to fit all of the components into. While we developed the electronics, software and wiring, we also called on various local and international suppliers to assist,” he said.

Vella said the single connection of the new ICC made for simple installation.

“It’s called a self aligning connector and it uses levers so that it aligns automatically when it is pushed into position. Once it’s in position, five bolts are put in place to take the weight and then one at the top to prevent movement.”

The successful partnership has gone a step further with Sumitomo a major player in the timely delivery of the Ford BA Falcon range and its state of the art ICCs.

Sumitomo conduct all the testing to make sure the device is working correctly before it leaves the plant. And thanks to some refining of the customised robotic assembly line, the company can turn around an order for any ICC in a record forty minutes. Sumitomo receive orders from Ford every fifty-five seconds.

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