The challenges faced by medium-sized enterprises in the automotive industry
If you run an automotive business and want to supply technology services to customers in the automotive industry, one prerequisite will be certification under DIN standard EN ISO 9001. This in turn forms the basis of IATF 16949, a binding standard laid down by the International Automotive Task Force involving over 800 requirements. Steinbeis experts Petra Ohlhauser and Christoph Seyfried, who are both IATF auditors, know the steps and challenges that face companies involved in the product development process – especially if they are SMEs.
In the automotive supply chain, a supplier selection process is deemed successful when the first steps of the bidding phase and ISO 9001 certification have been satisfactorily completed – and quality management system factors such as financial situation, applied technologies, skilled workers, development, and manufacturing capabilities have been assessed positively as part of an analysis of potential in accordance with VDA standard 6.3. In keeping with the requirements of specific customers, this is followed by further development involving more than 300 requirements under ISO 9001, on top of the 500 IATF requirements. Among other things, this involves considering factors such as the focus of the product development process (PDP), initial sampling, risk management (system, process, and product risks), contingency planning when it comes to energy and cybersecurity, staff shortages, management of the broader supply chain, preventing corruption, and procurement of new machinery or tools.
Placing exacting demands on the PDP
Top priority is given to detailed measurement of initial samples provided of new parts in the PDP, in keeping with specifications and machine capability. This is where advanced product quality planning (APQP) comes into play, which is executed using maturity level assurance (RGA) and advanced product quality planning (APQP). This involves strict requirements regarding project management, resource management, production technology, measurement technology, quality tools applied to risk management, process capabilities, and steps taken to minimize the uncertainty of measurements. This is because it is not enough to merely measure and sign off initial samples. From incoming goods, to logistics, production, and outgoing goods, technologies must be captured in production management plans for the purpose of control and monitoring, covering production and inspection planning, failure mode and effects analyses (FMEA), quality tools, and a response plan. So as not to disrupt the supply chain, response plans must also include a Plan B in the event of nonconforming products, problems with processes and testing capabilities, equipment failure, and failures in complex testing equipment.
Reducing risks and maintaining quality
VDA Volume 2 (Quality Assurance for Supplies) outlines procedures for the production process and product approvals within the PDP. Alongside the production part approval process (PPAP), this is an extremely important standard for the automotive and supplier industry. Risks should be reduced to an acceptable level by using product FMEA, process FMEA, or both. Above all, any factors relating to safety, approvals, and function should be analyzed and documented according to risk. Once the customer has approved an initial sample inspection report, production of larger pilot batches and serial products can get underway, and customer audits may be organized to assess ramp-ups to higher volumes.
When re-validating automotive parts, the standard of initial samples must be checked at regular intervals. This entails a greater investment of resources, and this should be taken into account when submitting offers and calculating product costings before embarking on the PDP. Depending on the specific requirements of customers, as captured in quality assurance agreements, comprehensive measurements will be needed for all specification items. Also, automotive quality core tools will have to be used (including FMEA, APQP, or PPAP). The aim is to avoid standing out when it comes to dealing with errors and delivery bottlenecks. It should also be ensured that parts are supplied in accordance with the customer contract. It’s important to avoid potential complaints, but if they do occur, the 8D methodology should be applied as a team-oriented approach to problem-solving.
The essential ingredient: documentation
Management topics feed into the documentation of information and processes, and this makes it essential to develop a system for managing processes in such a way that it is geared to the company. This system should be implemented as practically as possible. To form a basis for this, there should be defined areas of responsibility, clear lines of authority, and an unambiguous understanding of roles – in combination with documented visions and goals, as well as KPI tracking. “If you don’t have control and monitoring systems, you can’t make things better!” say Steinbeis Entrepreneurs Petra Ohlhauser and Christoph Seyfried, from experience. This is also where the IATF 16949 standard comes in, as a means of measuring, analyzing, and evaluating processes. It offers a range of suitable methods, such as statistical process control (SPC), inline measurements, interface assessments, and process audits. To gain an overview of the achieved outcomes, senior managers conduct regular reviews, which are used to gauge the performance of the organization in relation to stated goals. The plan, do, check, act (PDCA) cycle also helps companies identify the levers they need to activate to do things even better or maintain their success as an organization.
“It’s interesting for us as IATF auditors to see how the skills and awareness of managers and employees improve from audit to audit or workshop to workshop,” report the two Steinbeis entrepreneurs from Gosheim. While non-management staff occupy themselves with the process risks of planning, production, and logistics – making practical use of data sheets and control charts as interpretation – managers look at KPIs on process capabilities and measurement uncertainties. A key task for management is to consider risks, preventative measures, and contingency planning when it comes to issues such as staff shortages, cybersecurity, and supply chain disruptions. With such issues, it is no longer just a matter of documentation. Instead, it is imperative that preventative measures have been introduced, hand in hand with checks on their efficacy. It’s also important to ensure that this risk-based approach follows systemic principles, specific to individual products. This is a challenge that will also need to be met in the future – also in order to prepare for the future – and this does not only apply uniquely to the automotive industry.
Christoph Seyfried (author)
Steinbeis Transfer Center TQI Metricon Calibration (Gosheim)