Looking for a Better Way

For many years, this international electric car manufacturer had been using a paper/spreadsheet method to carry out product quality inspections. Using this method, operators would enter quality defects on a job card that travelled with the vehicle. Cell managers would then periodically collect the job cards together and enter all the quality data into a spreadsheet.

The limitations of this method led to delays in addressing problems and higher quality costs. So, they decided to undertake a digital transformation of their inspection process.

They were looking for an end-to-end inspection system, taking in every stage from the machine shop through to vehicle sign-off and, whichever solution they chose, they wanted it to deliver a lot:

  • Eliminate paper-based inspections
  • Reduce risk of warranty claims and product recalls
  • Improve accuracy of recorded quality issues
  • Reduce human error
  • Improve Right First Time
  • Reduce the Cost of Poor Quality

That’s why they chose ATS Inspect.

The Drawbacks of Paper/Spreadsheet Inspection Method

The paper/spreadsheet method had several drawbacks. For starters, transcribing the data alone took four manhours per shift per area. There were also issues with the precision of the data being limited to what they could present on the job cards. This was accompanied by the increased risk of human error as the same information was being entered by hand twice.

But perhaps the biggest shortcoming was apparent in the reporting and analysis. By the time critical defects and trends were identified the cost associated with resolving the issue had grown substantially.

This was partly because countless vehicles had passed through in the meantime which meant that any number of them could have had the same issue. But it was also due to the fact that the vehicle with the issue had continued through the manufacturing process which could make it harder to reach and fix the issue.

The New Way to Record Defects

The ATS Inspect software solution was developed in the automotive industry and so it fits into the customer’s existing processes seamlessly. Instead of recording quality issues on paper they now record them digitally on tablets.

When a vehicle arrives at a data collection station the operator scans the serial number with a barcode reader. ATS Inspect then presents them with 3D CAD images of the vehicle which correspond to the model and build of the unit. The operator then carries out the inspection as normal.

When they find a defect, they open the appropriate CAD image (e.g. doors, interior, tailgate) which they can then rotate and zoom as required before tapping where the defect was found. They can then select the type of concern, specify how serious it is and specify which cell they believe is responsible for the defect before saving the defect to the system.

If needed they can add comments or even take a photo of the defect using the camera on the tablet. All of this will help the repair technician to carry out the repair more effectively.

Even with the increased amount of information being recorded, with greater accuracy, the operator can complete the inspection during the required takt time of under a minute.

Carrying Out Repairs

When a vehicle arrives at a repair station the operator scans the serial number and is presented with the same images that the inspector was shown. They then have two options; they can either locate defects in the CAD images or they can view a list of all the defects that are present on that unit.

Once a repair is completed, they select the defect and mark it as repaired, together with the type of repair and the amount of time the repair took. This second piece of information is essential for helping calculate the true Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ).

As with recording defects they can also add further comments and take photos of the repair using the camera on the tablet. These photos can be essential when trying to identify the root cause of recurrent issues.

ATS Inspect as a Gatekeeper

When a vehicle reaches the end of production and is about to leave the plant it receives a final confirmation from ATS Inspect. This check does more than simply ensure that the vehicle is clear of defects. It ensures that the vehicle has passed through every area that it should have.

This is a bit more complicated than it sounds. For example, if cracks were found in certain components then, after repair, the vehicle should have gone back through the shower test. All the rules are contained within ATS Inspect which can check that none of them have been broken before releasing a vehicle from the plant.

In this way ATS Inspect does more than carry out simple product quality control; it performs process control, allowing the customer to focus on improvements instead of process management.

This step is the key to avoiding warranty claims and product recalls. When defects do occur they’re resolved and kept in-house.

This functionality was implemented due to feedback from this specific manufacturer and is an example of how ATS Inspect is developed by working in unison with customers.

Minimising the Impact of Warranty Claims and Product Recalls

With a digital quality solution there is a digital thread running through the entire manufacturing solution. It follows each vehicle back through the plant, specifies which processes it has been through, which components have been fitted, what inspections have been carried out and what issues were discovered and repaired.

In the case of a product recall all of this information becomes invaluable and can help to pinpoint an issue exact machine or process. More importantly, it can tell you the exact order in which vehicles passed through and may help to locate the exact vehicles that have been affected.

The customer can rest easy knowing that not only will ATS Inspect help warranty claims and product recalls from occurring but, even if they did, they can pinpoint and minimise the impact on customers that have bought their vehicles by only recalling those affected.

Reporting and Analysis

The data recorded in ATS Inspect is immediately available for analysis. This means that when they generate a report (and they generate a lot) it’s going to include the very latest data.

The customer is taking full advantage of all of the benefits that ATS Inspect reports have to offer. This includes automated report generation where PDF reports are generated on a regular basis and uploaded to a shared location where they can be accessed by everyone that needs it. Some people even have reports automatically emailed to them so that they’re aware of what’s happening in the plant no matter where they are.

For this manufacturer, a major benefit of the ATS Inspect solution is the ability to get quality information back to the source of the issue using Andon displays on the production lines. One of the key reports displayed in this way is a trend report that shows how various concerns have grown over the last 10 weeks which gives them a clear view of when minor issues may become cause for concern.

The speed with which quality concerns can be identified, recorded and analysed is greatly reducing the amount of time it takes to resolve those concerns which, in turn, is reducing the cost of quality.

Data Communication for Smarter Manufacturing

ATS Inspect communicates with the rest of the plant via ATS Bus, the Manufacturing Service Bus.

The Manufacturing Execution System (MES) sends body build data to ATS Inspect via ATS Bus. This means that when a vehicle arrives at an inspection station ATS Inspect is able to display the images and questions that match the vehicle’s model and build options.

ATS Bus also transmits data to ATS inspect from many different types of automated test equipment. These include the following:

  • Rolling road
  • Wheel/headlamp alignment
  • Throttle Adjustment System (TAS)
  • Engine tests

By collating this data in one place ATS Inspect provides a deeper understanding of the results and makes it easier to troubleshoot and perform root cause analysis.

The customer is enjoying many other benefits of utilising ATS Bus for data communication. These include the following:

  • Complete Data Monitoring: Customer remotely monitoring all of its data exchanges so that it can keep track of the health of its system, monitor for processing errors and send failed messages for reprocessing. It also makes it easier to troubleshoot product and process issues as well as perform track and trace tasks.
  • Reduced Downtime Risks and Total Cost of Ownership: With everything connecting once, to ATS Bus, there are fewer point-to-point connections which means fewer places where things can go wrong which reduces downtime risks and the total cost of ownership.
  • Increased Network Reliability and Resilience: ATS Bus comes with built-in resilience as it “buffers” data locally and utilizes handshakes to ensure every piece of data arrives at its destination safe and sound. This secures business continuity as network latency issues and power outages won’t mean they lose data.

A Growing Implementation

The customer is already seeing positive results from the implementation and will soon have over 300 ATS Inspect data collection stations in use throughout the plant.

With the real-time analysis provided by ATS Inspect this electric car manufacturer can ensure that their quality costs stay down while preventing product recalls and ensuring that the quality of each vehicle leaving their doors stands up to their brands enviable reputation.