Vehicle manufacturers and component suppliers are becoming uncomfortably familiar with the need to recall their products to fix ‘safety defects’ – and the negative publicity that such recalls can attract. In fact, data supplied by NHTSA – the US regulator for vehicle safety – shows that a ‘typical vehicle’ sold in the US will need to be recalled more than once to correct safety defects – and the situation has been getting progressively worse since the 1990’s.
The long-term trend may be driven by:-
- The increasing complexity of modern vehicles
- Public expectations of ‘absolute safety’
- More effective regulation, especially in the US market
Although some recent recalls have been the result of ‘complex technology gone wrong’ – and some are fundamental design problems – many are the result of simple process errors in the supply chain and production process.
With annual sales of 15 million vehicles, according to NHTSA, the 31 product recalls launched in the US during January and February 2014 involved 2,794,302 vehicles and 3 million child seats – with defects that included:-
- Incorrect information on product labels
- Doors that could not be opened
- Steering boxes with the gears that can’t turn
- Worn ignition switches that prevent the air-bags working
- Wiring faults that may cause fires
- Bubbles in windscreen glass
- Child seats that won’t release your child
Under the US TREAD ACT manufacturers and component suppliers are required to notify the US regulator, NHTSA, promptly when they discover the need for a product recall – and there are severe penalties if you conceal defects from the public.
NHTSA also regards ‘public education’ as a core activity, and actively encourages members of the public to report any concerns that they may have via their website – and engages with the public through Facebook and Twitter to raise awareness of product defects and current recalls. Information about consumer Complaints, NHTSA Investigations and Product Recalls is freely available on the NHTSA website and can be searched by make and model or model year – or you can download and analyse the the NHTSA database if you want!
The challenge for manufacturers and component suppliers is to eliminate defects before the vehicle leaves the showroom – so that product recalls are not required. This requires attention to detail at every stage of the development process through product specification, system and component design, validation testing as well as the development of capable processes – removing the sources of errors whenever possible. This can be achieved using:-
- Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) to to co-ordinate the the efforts of the development team ensuring that requirements are captured and satisfied by the product and process design.
- Failure Modes Effects Analysis (FMEA) to identify the potential causes of product and process failure and decide how to prevent, detect or mitigate them through design improvements, design validation procedures or process controls
The effective use of these tools and techniques requires the support of senior managers who are committed Quality Management and understand that:-
- Quality is conformance with the requirements and customer expectations
- The Measure of Performance is the price of non-conformance
- The standard is Zero Defects
- The System is prevention