Is your supply chain compliant?

Hyundai and Kia had to recall 1.4 million cars globally in April 2017 because engines were prone to stalling and failure, increasing the likelihood of a fatal crash. This case highlights the importance of ensuring that your entire supply chain is ISO/TS 16949 compliant. Here, Chris Johnson, managing director of automotive bearing specialist SMB Bearings, explains why quality assurance is essential, even for the smallest of automotive components.

ISO/TS 16949 defines the quality management systems for automotive manufacturing. The standard is not exclusive to the production of vehicles, but to any relevant installation or service of automotive-related products. In 2016, the standard began transitioning to the International Automotive Task Force (IATF) standard, IATF 16949:2016 — but more on that change later.

ISO/TS 16949 is one of the automotive sector's most widely used standards for quality management. The technical specification strives for the continual improvement of quality in automotive supply chains and aims to prevent defects and waste for manufacturers in the sector. The standard impacts the entire automotive supply chain, from large, specialist automotive parts to the miniature, bespoke components inside each separate part of the car — including every nut, bolt and bearing.

According to Toyota, an average vehicle manufacturered will contain over 30,000 separate components. That said, as many of today’s cars are manufacturered to unique customer requirements, this figure could be significantly higher for some vehicle designs. As a result, the supply chains of automotive manufacturers can be colossal and ensuring compliance from every supplier can be challenging.

Consider bearings as an example. Just one vehicle could require several dozen separate bearings, each required for a different application. For instance, you would not use the same automotive bearing for slow moving parts and controls, such as steering columns, as you would for electric motor parts like those used in window wipers, electric seats and electric mirrors. Therefore, different suppliers are sometimes required for similar parts — and all of these suppliers should be compliant.

But, is ISO/TS 16949 compliance essential for every supplier, including that of small and miniature parts? Some may argue that for smaller components, high quality management standards are not as necessary as they are for larger parts of the vehicle, like the engine or brake pads. Put simply, we disagree.

Granted, low quality bearings may not increase the likelihood of a fatal crash like the engine problem of Hyundai and Kia in 2017. However, in a quality-driven industry like automotive manufacturing, reducing the likelihood of faults can have significant financial and reputational effects. For example, using quality electric motor bearings for wing mirrors can guarantee that the mirrors will rotate smoothly, therefore increasing customer satisfaction and reducing the likelihood of customer complaints.

Bearings for slow moving parts and controls, such as steering column bearings, can also negatively impact the customer experience if they are not specified properly. Due to the speed of these parts, the lubricant is often a dampening grease which reduces the vibration caused by rotation. Any temporary failure in the bearing manufacturing process not picked up by quality control, could result in product recalls — or costly production downtime if the problem is identified during the vehicle manufacture.

Ensuring quality throughout the supply chain may seem like a colossal task but identifying problems with suppliers, particularly in the later manufacturing phase, can be costly. Automotive manufacturing executives estimate that production-line downtime in the industry costs around $22,000 per minute — that’s $1.3 million per hour. With such high figures for unplanned stoppages, quality assurance from suppliers should be integral.

In the case of ISO/TS 16949, compliance is only provided after an organisation can pass a formal quality framework check by an evaluating group known as a Registrar. Even for manufacturers of small parts and components, like bearings, passing this quality framework is non-negotiable.

For example, EZO is a Japanese manufacturer of miniature, small and specialist bearings. As a compliant manufacturer, EZO offers automotive bearings with assured ISO TS/16949 approval. Unlike suppliers without certification, EZO can ensure the bearings it supplies meet the high standards set by ISO — and the customer is granted third party reassurance.

In October 2016, IATF released IATF 19679, a new automotive quality standard that is set to replace ISO/TS 16949 by September 2018. The change is to address new risk management and safety issues that come with the introduction of electronics and software to automotive manufacturing — many of which did not exist when ISO/TS 16949 was last updated.

The standard will still address all the quality management standards set by ISO/TS 16949, therefore most component suppliers, like EZO bearings, will not be affected by the change. However, following the transition, all IATF subscribing original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), including the likes of Ford, BMW and Peugeot, will require their suppliers to comply with both ISO/TS 16949, and as of September 2018, the new IATF 16949.

The introduction of IATF 16949 demonstrates the industry’s commitment to maintaining high quality assurance standards, especially in light of new technologies for automotive manufacturing, like electronics and software. For traditional components, like bearings, nuts and bolts, the requirement for high quality remains the same.

For manufacturers, the message is simple. Compliance to quality standards is not an exclusive requirement for large components, but for the smallest suppliers in your supply chain too. Choosing the wrong bearing supplier may not cause a 1.4 million car recall, like that of Hyundai and Kia, but in a quality-driven industry, it makes sense to use quality suppliers.