DETROIT - It looked as though DaimlerChrysler had a problem.
Owners of a 2000 vehicle were complaining of vibrations from the brakes. Dealers were replacing multiple parts, sometimes over several visits, to try and resolve the problem.
DaimlerChrysler used a new tool to help solve the mystery - the Quality Engineering Center in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Experts from brake parts supplier Robert Bosch Corp. of Farmington Hills, Mich., set up camp at the center to help figure out a solution.
By changing the friction material on the brake pads, the shuddering problem in the front rotors was cut 80 percent, according to DaimlerChrysler. Bosch representatives have an idea to further reduce claims - equip dealers with digital diagnostic equipment that pinpoints the trouble earlier. That would prevent unnecessary replacement of associated parts, save money and get the customer's problem fixed on the first try. DaimlerChrysler is now validating the feasibility of that tool switch.
COSTS DOWN 30 PERCENT
The Quality Engineering Center opened in January, putting five key departments - the parts return group, supplier warranty reduction team, quality engineering research garage, service parts engineering and advance diagnostics research - in the same building.
'That has been an added convenience and time savings, having all things in one place,' said Mike Pedue, a Bosch field warranty liaison. 'And hopefully that results in quicker turnaround and better resolution on satisfying customers.'
DaimlerChrysler officials say that is happening. The center helped contribute to a 30 percent reduction in supplier-associated warranty problems for Chrysler group's 2000 models.
Such strides show that the automaker's concept of marrying quality functions and interacting closely with suppliers to reduce warranty costs, raise vehicle quality and improve customer experience is working. The under-one-roof vision, first proposed in 1996, integrates best practices from other manufacturers - including competitors General Motors and Ford Motor Co. - into what could be a model for other companies.
Some other improvements accelerated by the center:
n The number of replacement starter motors for pickups was cut from 21 to one current-production motor with an adapter kit. Customers get replacements quicker, and the company saves millions of dollars, said J. Michael Burke, senior manager in the center's parts return group. It's part of $54 million in repair cost savings from 16 service parts projects this year.
n A problem with a plastic tether interfering with a gas cap seal was eliminated by changing the attachment point. Before the fix, it cost $23 to replace each cap. Supplier Solvay Automotive of Troy, Mich., helped track down the problem and will earn points in the automaker's Supplier Cost Reduction Effort, or SCORE, program as a result.
IMPROVE THE SCORE
The center offers many opportunities for suppliers to improve SCORE ratings. With key personnel in one building, suppliers can meet for part reviews sooner and cover more ground in less time. The proximity of the research garage - where 18,000 corporate-owned vehicles are serviced - and the diagnostic department offers a real-world view of part performance and a chance to test that performance further.
Supplier usage of the automaker's online warranty tracking system also has increased 114 percent from September 1999 to September 2000. That system gives suppliers real-time access to warranty claims, even before parts arrive at the center. That alone can help resolve a problem two to three weeks quicker, said Rick Hamilton, an A.G. Simpson Automotive Systems corporate quality liaison in Troy, Mich.
It all adds up to speed - and speedier fixes translate to tremendous cost savings. Cutting just one day out of the solution cycle keeps 2,000 new vehicles from being built with the problem, said Robert Moser, DaimlerChrysler director of corporate quality.
With such potential, even competing automakers want a look at the new center. GM, Ford, Fiat and Toyota all have made benchmarking visits to the quality center, Burke said. Corporate comrade Mercedes likely will adopt many of the practices in its parts return operation.
'We bring back parts faster and more of them than anyone else in the industry,' Burke said. 'Our competitors have told us that. They continue to tell us that.'
Other industry players are smart to look at the center, suppliers agreed.
Said Hamilton: 'If every company did it in a quick timely fashion with the resources and equipment that are here, it would probably make them better.'