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“Driving Quality”
Part 1 ~ The Automotive Supply Chain

How can automotive component parts suppliers comply with, and gain real business advantage from, quality management frameworks? What are the best strategies for managing the key tasks in a post-COVID-19 world?

The average modern car is one of the most complex pieces of machinery you will ever own. With around 30,000 individual components, managing the quality of component parts through the supply chain is a vital task.

It’s no surprise then that the auto industry has had a structured approach to quality methodologies for some time. Lean manufacturing principles emerged from the Toyota Production System (TPS) in the 1950s. In the 1980s, Ford, Chrysler, and GM began developing the APQP process using Statistical Process Control (SPC) and Six Sigma techniques, among others. Toyota started sharing TPS with its parts suppliers in the 1990s. Some of the main automotive-producing countries built their own quality management system frameworks in the 1990s—VDA (Germany), AIAG (US), AVSQ (Italy), FIEV (France), and SMMT (UK).

By the late 90s, the industry realized this wasn’t a viable approach. Tier 1 suppliers to vehicle manufacturers—or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in industry parlance—were often supplying automotive manufacturers in different jurisdictions. Tier 2 suppliers—those supplying the Tier 1s—were in an even more complex situation.

Quality Control & Standardization

The first attempt at rationalizing the situation was the ISO technical specification ISO/TS 16949:1999, revised over the years to ISO/TS 16949:2009 and later reworked as IATF 16949:2016. These standards were built on the more general ISO 9001 Quality Management System framework, with extensions. Some of the most demanding requirements are in measuring and monitoring the production process itself—Chapter 8 in the 2009 standard (“Measurement, Analysis & Improvement”) and Chapter 9 in the 2016 version (“Performance Evaluation”).

Both versions of the standard include a common set of requirements for managing quality control in production processes:

  • Measuring and recording each variable for each process in a reliable, repeatable way and assessing the variation and capability of the processes by means of a control plan
  • Use of statistical tools as part of the control plan (statistical process control, or SPC)
  • Having corrective action plans to return processes to stability that are triggered on key conditions
  • Recording when those events are triggered, the causes of those events and the corrective actions taken
  • Having the ability to perform long-term analysis of the relative prevalence of assignable causes and corrective actions to aid process improvement

Initially, many suppliers viewed the standard as a compliance issue—a necessary hoop that had to be jumped through in order to continue to do business with their customers. The goal was often simply to just have enough of a business process to satisfy an auditor. Those business processes would be implemented by forms, forms, and more forms—as manual processes. Because manual processes are cheap, right? And paper forms are easy!

Real-time Statistical Process Control Analysis

Clearly, that didn’t work out so well. Suppliers found that complex manual processes were taking more and more time away from the business of actual production. Forms need to be maintained, distributed, version-controlled, transcribed, archived, and stored. Intangible costs are still, after all, costs.

The smarter suppliers quickly realized that there was an alternative. Instead of treating the standard as a compliance issue, could the principles in the standard actually produce a real business benefit? The closer they looked, the more they realized that was the case.

Through careful monitoring of process variation and capability, suppliers realized they could dramatically reduce their scrap and rework costs, as well as customer complaints. But to do this effectively, they’d need to collect and analyze their metrics in real-time. Also, by analyzing trends in key conditions and the application of reaction plans and corrective action plans, they could see “hot spots” in their business and bring appropriate resources to bear.

Introducing Enact®

But they wouldn’t be able to achieve this with simple forms and manual processes. These challenges and opportunities are driving increased adoption of digital transformation across the automotive sector. Under the Industry 4.0 framework, physical manufacturing processes are being increasingly integrated with advanced information technologies and services—from data collection and real-time monitoring to advanced analytics capabilities.

This union of the physical and digital realms is being leveraged to achieve levels of manufacturing optimization that are becoming a critical operational imperative in an increasingly dynamic and competitive industry sector. Enact®, the Quality Intelligence platform from InfinityQS®, is designed to achieve exactly this.

Enact® Quality Intelligence Platform

How Enact® Helps

Enact® helps manufacturers collect all their SPC data and quality-related metrics into a single version of the truth, in real time, no matter how or where they are generated. Whether from manual tests by operators, from batch operations via CMM, or from unattended in-process devices or sensors, Enact® can collect all data in real time into a single database.

Enact® also allows you to define the events on which you want to trigger an action plan. These can be compliance events (something did or didn’t happen), limits (something was out of specification), or statistical events (some significant pattern occurred in the data). You can define mandatory actions and optional actions, and track who these are completed by, and when.

Sample Enact® Workflow images – Event Details and Pareto Chart

Then, Enact® enables different audiences to view different analyses of this data—in real time, without waiting for reports. Each audience can see the analysis that matters to them, based on physical scope (location, or groups of parts, or processes) and time (short-, medium-, or long-term). What’s more, each user can then ask questions of that analysis and get the answers—instantly.

That analysis is presented in a way that allows you to “roll up” data—so you can easily find out, for example, which shift has the biggest process variation? Or which line or machine? Or which plant? Or even which country? And you can then “drill down” to find out why.

Sample Enact® Analysis Dashboard

There’s Always One More Thing…

So now you can avoid wasting time on non-productive form-filling and manual compliance systems and focus on the real job—producing the best quality products in the most efficient way possible.

Problem solved—until a little thing called COVID-19 came along and ruined the party. Now, we need to work out how to do all the above while maintaining safe social distancing. Luckily, Enact® also helps there—and that’s the subject of Part 2 of this blog series. Read the other articles in this series:

Part 2: COVID 19 and Automotive Manufacturing
Part 3: Turning Compliance into an Opportunity

By David Gurr, Partner Account Manager, InfinityQS
July 2, 2020

For more information about InfinityQS and its Global Partner Program, visit