“Takata admitted that its airbags were defective and agreed to double the number of vehicles recalled in the United States, to nearly 34 million — or about one in seven of the more than 250 million vehicles on American roads — making it the largest automotive recall in American history. The airbags can explode violently when they deploy, sending shrapnel flying into a car’s passenger compartment. Six deaths and more than 100 injuries have been linked to the flaw.
The announcement also indicated a shift for the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which for years had been criticised by lawmakers and safety advocates as being too lax on the industry it oversees.
According to the article auto makers particularly affected include Honda, Toyota, Chrysler, Nissan, Ford, and BMW.
This raises an important point. Honda together with Toyota have in the past few years born the brunt of media exposure to the problem of product recalls, when the problems have largely been down to theirs and their competitors supply chains. Of course, if each auto manufacturer had its own exclusive suppliers they would be responsible for supplier selection but those days have long since disappeared. Today, economies of scale have all but wiped out smaller suppliers. As a consequence we now have giant suppliers of the main components who supply not just a single manufacturer but possibly all of them. What can the manufacturers do in such situations?
Well in that same article, Honda have said that they are actively seeking alternative suppliers. For complex and high tech products this is not as easy as it might sound. In such cases the core competences will be hard to acquire not only in the product features but also in the means to manufacture – especially in the high volumes that would be required. Also the need for a good understanding of the quality sciences and disciplines will be immense. For example, if you manufacture say 10 items then at 10% defective you have just one defect. If you make 100 then there will be on average 10 defects. Make a million and there will be something like 100,000 defects.
Therefore the need to improve product quality is proportional to the volume of production. In this situation, even the minutest design fault will, as has been illustrated above, have catastrophic consequences and the larger the company the bigger the risk!
Since the automotive industry has been one of the main influencers in the development of the quality sciences and disciplines, this situation points to the likelihood that the focus of quality in the future will be more and more towards reducing risks, during innovation and product development and second party supply chain management.
David Hutchins, FCQI CQP is Chairman of David Hutchins International Quality College Limited.