Dianne Craig, president and CEO of Ford of Canada, had the opportunity recently to speak at the third-annual FIRST Canada Robotics Conference at St. Mildred-Lightbourn School in Oakville, Ont. The conference is held annually for the robotics clubs from local schools to learn about programming, how to run a successful club and get sponsors involved, as well as strategize for the upcoming competition season.

Girls with Wrench

St. Mildred-Lightbourn School is an all-girls school from kindergarten to Grade 12 and runs one of the only all-girl robotics clubs in the region, Girls with Wrench. Dianne was invited to speak because of Ford of Canada’s use of robotic technology in its assembly plant, which is a short distance away from the school. She also reflected the hopes and dreams of many of the girls in the audience – that they too might someday rise through the ranks to lead an internationally respected company after receiving a math degree!

The audience was made up of almost 300 high school and middle school students and teachers from mostly across Southwestern Ontario.

History lesson

Dianne’s 30-minute speech discussed the Oakville Assembly Plant’s use of robotics, and its history in developing robotics on the line. When Ford first began to build vehicles, each was built by hand without a robot in sight. As a matter of fact, vehicles were built without the help of robots for decades. Initially, each vehicle took around 12 hours to build, and prior to Ford’s billion-dollar investment in technology in 2006, it would take about 26 weeks to make all the engineering changes needed to build a new model.

Today, a modern assembly line produces a car in about 1½ hours. Each generation of automotive engineers and designers made discoveries that resulted in the manufacturing process being faster, safer and less costly. It’s been a tremendous success story of technology innovation over many decades.

Honourary member

After the speech, Dianne was able to stay at the school for the cake reception, meeting students, answering their questions and taking photos with the various robotics teams. The talk was so well-received that the Girls with Wrench made Dianne an honourary member, by gifting her a uniform shirt! Dianne will return to St. Mildred-Lightbourn School in the spring as a member of the school’s speaker series for women in business.