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The problem with automotive recalls

08 September 2015

Automotive manufacturers need to start looking a little harder into the supply chain to address rising recalls, says Michael Lyle.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Product recalls are likely to continue rising within the automotive industry, unless automotive manufacturers start to take active steps to improving their visibility across the supply chain and into supplier processes.

Recently, the automotive industry has been awash with a range of high-profile recalls impacting some of the biggest names in the automotive industry. According to recent data from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, carmakers recalled more than 34.5 million vehicles in the US during the first seven months of this year. This ranks as one of the highest recall totals on record, with problems ranging from cybersecurity gaps vulnerable to hackers, rupture-prone air bags and possible fire hazards linked to ventilation systems.

Today, cars and their systems are much more complex than they were five to ten years ago. Manufacturers are placed under more pressure to develop greater functionality that ultimately enhances our driving experience. However, more complex systems mean more components and technology to test before delivery to the dealerships. To support this, manufacturers are placing a heavier reliance on their suppliers to implement the necessary quality assurance measures to ensure all components are up to standard.

Traditionally, manufacturers used a variety of tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers to provide the components for their vehicles. But today, with greater emphasis placed on the quality of each aspect of the vehicle, including the complex new systems, streamlined supplier relationships, and the need to meet efficiency targets is driving a shift.

Furthermore, suppliers stopped providing a single product to just one manufacturer and started producing systems to service multiple automakers. The detriment to this is that in the event of an incident, it is not just one manufacturer being impacted by a fault, it is many.  

Recently, it was reported that Japan might face the realistic possibility of an airbag shortage following the news that 9.8 million vehicles representing manufacturers including Honda, Toyota and Nissan could be recalled after it was revealed that their airbags, which were made by an external supplier, could carry potential defects.

Looking at this example, it is clear why issues are arising. If a supplier is responsible for fixing an issue relating to a recall, it ultimately increases the burden on them to not only address the issue, but also to ensure regular operations continue uninterrupted. If they fall behind, it halts the entire supply chain process, resulting in increased problems like unfixed recalls and delayed delivery of new vehicles. To address this, it is imperative that manufacturers have visibility into what their suppliers are doing for them.

By creating visibility into operations within the supply chain, manufacturers will attain first-hand insight into the manufacturing processes of the systems and services they acquire, ensuring that actions are taken to meet increasingly stringent health and safety standards, as well as quality control requirements.

In today’s market, it is simply not enough for automotive manufacturers to receive parts and a certificate of analysis, and be satisfied that this ticks all the necessary quality check boxes. They need total visibility into supplier operations to understand what is happening during those processes and to ensure the quality testing and results are compliant with external regulatory requirements.

Ultimately, the changing landscape now means that suppliers are becoming stretched incredibly thin, and in the event of a product failure, it’s not just one manufacturer but many that will be impacted. To alleviate this burden, it is critical to ensure total visibility both across the supply chain and at the manufacturing level through real-time data collection and analysis. 

Simply receiving a piece of paper that says the parts are good is no longer sufficient, and it is imperative that manufacturers take the time to work closer with their suppliers, understand their processes and improve the quality of the components they make. The result is safer, better quality vehicles for the consumer.

Michael Lyle is president and CEO of manufacturing Intelligence and enterprise quality specialist, InfinityQS International

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