A vehicle reaches the end of the assembly line. A technician runs a routine check to make sure it is factory perfect, but discovers that four electrical modules aren't working correctly.
Chances are, the culprit is not the modules themselves, but the wire harness that connects them, says Mohan Sethi, business development manager for Mahle Service Solutions of Farmington Hills, Mich. And more often than not, it is the connector at the end of that wiring, he adds. And more specifically, he says, it is probably one bad pin in that connector.
"The challenge for automakers is discovering all that as vehicles keep moving down the assembly line," Sethi said in an interview. "Hours of repair time might pass before the technician finds the real problem."
That common scenario has prompted Mahle to start a technology venture using wire harness data to let assembly technicians zoom to the heart of vehicle test failures. Collecting mountains of data from the industry's wire harness makers and loading it into Mahle's diagnostics equipment -- a separate business from Mahle's massive global engine parts operations -- the supplier says it has developed a way to quickly search through vehicles to identify problems.
Wire harnesses are some of the most basic commodity components in a vehicle, typically made in low-cost countries and shipped in bundles to be strung through pillars and compartments during assembly. But they are a growing hot spot for automakers as they incorporate increasingly complex electronics.
Sethi says: "The OEMs are telling us, "We don't have time for a lot of diagnosis. Just tell my techs exactly what and where the problem is so that we can make the vehicle salable and move it out the door.'"
Last year, Mahle began working with a single U.S. auto plant with "a high-profile model," using the approach to expedite end-of-line checks. A Mahle spokeswoman says the company is prohibited from identifying the customer, but other automakers are now in discussions with Mahle on adopting the technology.
"The connectors themselves are a hugely complex part of this," Sethi says. "They are all unique, with their own way of fastening and they are tricky to remove."