With the push for standard parts, quality is key

Volkswagen's modular set of underpinnings, code-named MQB, is an example of efforts to standardize modules and systems. Such standardization makes quality imperative.

MUNICH -- Automakers have long sought standard parts that can be used in various autos to cut costs. Now they want standardized modules and systems.

"The requirement that we face is clearly to develop products from the outset in such a way that they can be used in all the platform derivatives without the expense of making changes," said Sabine Woytowicz, regional quality director at Valeo in Germany.

But with mass standardization, a part with a quality problem can now be supplied to millions of vehicles. That puts a premium on quality.

Andreas Radics, a partner in the consulting firm Berylls Strategy Advisors, said: "The power of quality to penetrate brand equity and image is growing."

So Radics considers it essential for automakers and Tier 1 suppliers to integrate their quality managers even more fully into the product development process.

Martin Thier, director of corporate quality management at the Mahle Group, said: "When obtaining an order, we check its feasibility for both product development and manufacturing even more closely."

It comes down to "knowing precisely what you do, what you can do and how good you are at it."

For example, he said, there is now a more intense interest in investigating how an inconsequential error in one part would produce an effect in a different component.

The growth of global platforms is accelerating the trend of standardized parts.

"The really big challenges are still on their way," Radics said. According to his research, 24 percent of all manufactured vehicles are now built on the 10 biggest platforms worldwide.

With the new platforms now being developed and expected in the market in 2020, the figure will rise to 30 percent. In the process, the number of derivatives will in turn grow substantially -- increasing the need for common parts that can be swapped in and out of various models.

Meanwhile, internationalization complicates the job of making standard parts and systems. To exploit regional cost advantages, automakers are pushing their system suppliers to make parts purchases in local markets.

But the quality standards of suppliers in different markets vary greatly. That is why system suppliers are increasingly using the approach that they know from their customers: "When there are new product launches, we train our suppliers in the appropriate methods and processes when necessary and go into their factories to make sure there is a stable production process," Woytowicz said.

In Radics' view, that will no longer be enough. "Common parts with the same specifications from various countries and on different tools must be manufactured in a way that they are absolutely identical in quality so that they can be installed at any other factory at any time," he said.

This continues to be a major challenge for manufacturer and supplier alike, he added.

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