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Product recalls related to quality defects in the manufacturing process are a growing concern in the automotive industry. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 300 automotive-related recalls were initiated in the U.S. by manufacturers in 2016, encompassing over 53 million vehicles. And U.S.-based automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers paid nearly $12 billion to settle claims related to These recalls, a staggering cost that doesn’t begin to account for the damage to a company’s reputation for quality with its customers. (Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as summarized in “The auto industry’s growing recall problem - and how to fix it,” a report prepared by AlixParnters, January 2018)
In an effort to address this problem, more and more OEMs are proactively engaging in quality management initiatives designed to identify and resolve potential problems during the design and manufacturing process. At the same time, even the most knowledgeable in-house engineering teams can benefit from the experience and methodologies that outside experts can provide, as well as access to the advanced testing technologies that they can offer.
In this interview, Steve Miaskowski, Business Line Manager of TÜV SÜD’s OnSite Testing Services, discusses the quality challenges facing automotive OEMs today, and the ways in which TÜV SÜD partners with key players in the automotive industry to improve quality and to prevent costly product recalls.
It doesn’t take decades of experience in the automotive industry to see how innovative technologies have radically transformed our business. Today, electrical and electronic systems and components have almost completely replaced mechanical-based systems, standardizing the availability of some of the most advanced safety systems we’ve ever seen and even helping to make truly autonomous vehicles a reality. At the same time, successfully integrating these technologies can introduce a whole new set of quality issues and concerns that can be difficult to anticipate and to diagnose.
Another challenge that may be even more critical is the changing demographic of the automotive industry workforce. As organizations embrace modern production methods, skilled workers with extensive experience are losing their jobs or choosing to retire, taking with them their deep reservoir of knowledge. And innovative startups may bring important new technologies to the table, but can lack a fundamental understanding of how those technologies may impact automotive quality.
Actually, our OnSite service offerings began somewhat serendipitously more than 20 years ago, when a leading OEM sought our assistance in operating a BSR (buzz, squeak and rattle) testing platform at one of their facilities. That engagement resulted in our developing standardized testing procedures and processes for our client, which we refined and modified over the following years to address new and emerging quality issues. Eventually, we were able to leverage the testing knowledge gained during that engagement and apply it to other quality issues, such as wind noise, and vehicle and powertrain NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).
As our base of clients grew, we were also able to apply that knowledge to the development of advanced portable testing systems that more effectively reflected expected operating conditions. These portable systems, which now include component test systems and even portable wind tunnels, have enabled us to provide OEMs and their suppliers with effective solutions to their quality issues at the actual point of production, regardless of ist location.
In general, each of our OnSite service offerings is geared toward identifying and resolving quality issues that could adversely impact an OEM or supplier and their customers. Following an extensive and thorough inspection and audit of existing practices and outputs, we apply the classic “plan, do, check, act” (PDCA) methodology to contain and correct manufacturing defects and to provide both interim and permanent corrections to production processes. And we conduct subsequent periodic audits to help ensure that the new processes are being applied and yielding the expected result.
On a larger scale, we help to bridge the communications gap that frequently exists between an OEM’s engineering and development staffs to improve overall designs and to reduce or eliminate the potential severity of defects that could affect customers’ perception of quality. And we also work with OEM suppliers to audit quality metrics for supplied parts, and to implement corrective measures when necessary.
In short, we work to establish a trusted partnership with our OEM and supplier clients, becoming in effect, an integral part of our clients’ team, while also maintaining our ability to provide an objective perspective and independent advice and counsel in addressing their quality issues. It’s a rare combination that nonetheless seems to work!
Today, our offerings continue to reflect the dynamics of the automotive industry and the new and emerging quality challenges that OEMs and suppliers
face. For many clients, the approaches and solutions that we have successfully used in the past can be applied with little or no need for customization. This is especially true for quality issues that can be linked to clearly identifiable quantitative metrics, such as wind noise or air leakage.
Increasingly, our clients are also asking us to help them evaluate more subjective, qualitatively-focused factors that go to the heart of the company’s brand perception among customers. This value proposition is different for each of our automotive clients, and requires not only a depth of technical expertise but also an understanding of how various quality factors can impact the customer experience. Because of our extensive experience, we’re able to offer our clients a number of options that will help them deliver quality products that meet, or even exceed, customer expectations.
Recently, one of our OEM clients requested our help in diagnosing a transmission issue that could have had led to an increase in warranty claims in the future. The client wanted to understand the extent of the problem and be able to narrow the focus of their efforts to address it. So we implemented an exhaustive testing regime over an extended period, in which our testing engineers evaluated nearly 300 cars a day to identify the root cause of the problem. That work enabled our client to clear hundreds of post-production vehicles and to focus their efforts on those that manifested the transmission-related symptoms.
Separately, another OEM client was seeking an independent audit of the specific angle at which their vehicles’ windshield wipers were engaging with the windshield. Sounds like a simple, straightforward problem, to be sure. But our testing engineers had the requisite knowledge and the right set of skills to efficiently conduct the thorough audit that was required.
In perhaps one of the largest scale projects we’ve ever undertaken, an OEM client was required to initiate a nation-wide recall of nearly 4000 vehicles powered by natural gas. The recall work involved replacing the compressed natural gas tank in each of the affected vehicles with new tanks, as well replacing affected valves and manifolds. We deployed 12 separate teams across the country, and completed the necessary component replacements within six months and at a fraction of the originally-projected cost.
Currently, we’re actively exploring ways in which we can leverage our automotive testing expertise in the design of new portable testing equipment that we can use with clients of our OnSite service offerings. This advanced testing equipment can enable OEMs and suppliers to more easily and effectively evaluate the range of qualitative factors that help to make up their customers’ perceptions of quality.
We also see important opportunities with the large number of new and innovative automotive suppliers coming on line. These companies have great technology and great ideas, but many of them simply don’t have the technical expert or the resources to effectively manage production quality issues in their operations. We can help to shorten their learning curve while enabling them to bring their innovations to the market more quickly and more successfully.
In the end, our clients will value the OnSite services we provide based on their economic return. Over two decades, our experience tells us that the cost of our onsite service offerings is almost always more than offset by the reduction of warranty- and recall related costs and the increase in customer perceptions of quality. If you look at the costs recently incurred by some of the world’s leading automotive OEMs over a single recall, the cost of our OnSite services is actually better viewed as in investment, one that will help to significantly reduce the risk associated with quality issues, while also contributing to sustainable improvements in manufacturing practices that will pay dividends for years to come.
For more information about TÜV SÜD’s automotive on-site services please contact us under [email protected]
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