Auto Lightweighting Gains Traction with Quality Control
By Rick Sloop, Director of International Technical Services, InfinityQS International, Inc.
By 2025, all new cars and trucks are required to have an average fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon, as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With today’s vehicles averaging about half that amount, this is certainly an ambitious goal. However, as automotive manufacturers work towards this deadline, many are finding that lightweighting– using lighter components and advanced materials in the manufacturing process– is the key to meeting the EPA’s requirements.
In a recent WardsAuto survey of automotive engineers and designers, almost 50 percent of the 900 respondents said that they were focused on lightweighting in preparation for 2025. This growing sentiment is evident by the much-anticipated release of the 2015 Ford F-150. Built with an aluminum body, the 2015 F-150 is about 700 lbs. lighter and significantly more fuel efficient than previous models.
On the surface, introducing lightweight material into automotive manufacturing processes may seem as easy as making a few simple replacements on the assembly line. Yet, this is not the case. Bringing in new materials (a shape-memory alloy, for example) creates a whole new batch of challenges for automotive manufacturers, especially when these supplies behave differently than their predecessors. How will the new material react to heat? How long does it take to cool? Does it properly attach to the other parts and uphold safety standards? And, of course, will the consumer be satisfied with the quality and performance of the end product? Integrating new joining techniques and adhesives further complicates the situation. For instance, the new, lighter material may require assembly via rivets and adhesives, rather than welding. These new consideration make it essential for manufacturers to ensure they maintain the correct fit, function and finish of all components.
In addition to necessitating changes to manufacturing processes on the plant floor, lightweighting requires manufacturers focus extra effort on their supply chains. Supply chain management has always been a priority in the automotive industry, since many components are produced in various locations from different suppliers. But, with the introduction of new materials, processes and standards, it becomes even more vital for manufacturers to monitor their suppliers’ operations. Without this scrutiny, automotive manufacturers are at a greater risk for incorporating faulty components into the final product that will result in costly recalls.
To help overcome the challenges of automotive lightweighting and better manage the introduction of new materials, manufacturers are looking to technology in the form of an enterprise quality hub. With the power of a Statistical Process Control (SPC) engine, these solutions can collect and aggregate quality data to deliver real-time manufacturing intelligence. Using this same approach, there are several ways that this technology is contributing to lightweighting efforts.
First, on the plant floor, an enterprise quality hub can aid in the inspection process. New, lightweight materials are expensive, and therefore, so is the destructive testing required to validate the safety and strength of the material. Using SPC methodology, manufacturers can employ acceptance sampling and use statistically valid approaches to verify that new methods and standards are up to par. At the same time, the software solution can be integrated with scales, gauges and other measurement technologies to certify that the new materials and components have the correct fit and finish. Also, because the new materials will most likely require manufacturers to reconfigure their robotics, the software solution contributes to determining Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) of machinery.
In addition, a cloud-based enterprise quality hub employs browser-based access and mobile technologies so its capabilities reach beyond the plant floor and into supplier operations. The centralized nature of a cloud deployment enables manufacturers to pull “big data” from disparate locations, standardize it and gain a holistic view of supply chain quality via a single database. This means, it doesn’t matter where suppliers are located or which quality systems and measurement methodologies they are using. Automotive manufacturers can verify that each supplier is using the appropriate new material and correctly assembling it, before it reaches their plant and is incorporated into the end product. For example, an automotive manufacturer in Detroit can verify that its chassis supplier in Japan assembled the piece with the right material, using the right adhesives, to the right specifications. And, if there is a defect in the product or process, the U.S.-based manufacturer can use the actionable manufacturing intelligence provided by the software solution to notify the supplier in real time.
Moreover, executives and quality professionals can use the hub’s cloud-based technology to attain insight into all process and equipment from virtually any location via an Internet connection. Regardless of time of day or device used, automotive manufacturers are no longer limited to monitoring quality within a plant’s four walls. It is possible to virtually see what is going on at every assembly line across the globe – is everything properly measured? Are all pieces of equipment operating efficiently?
As new standards, processes and practices for automotive lightweighting come into play, the high level of visibility provided by an enterprise quality hub will prove even more valuable. As a result of the manufacturing intelligence gained from this technology, automotive manufacturers can confidently incorporate lightweighting techniques while preventing recalls and ensuring consumers’ safety as they move towards 2025.