What Are the Benefits of Automotive Quality Management Systems?

 

Introduction

During product development and production, the automotive industry relies heavily on evaluation, verification/validation, and testing, all of which aim toward consistent, efficient road safety worldwide. Quality control is on that list as well, specifically because it allows engineers to continuously measure and assess different products’ specifications to make sure certain components function and behave as intended over the product lifetime.

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A key way of evaluating, managing, and maintaining the quality of products and components is accomplished by the implementation of an automotive Quality Management System (QMS). A QMS can, for example, reveal internal processes or procedures within a company that does not fully align with the intended functionality of its products and/or services. Maintaining efficient quality, and constructing an efficient QMS, can be impactful from an organizational standpoint too, by influencing both company growth and collaboration with other suppliers and OEMs. Many companies consider compliance with a QMS essential in choosing a provider. In short, the implementation of a QMS can provide companies the opportunity to evaluate and maintain the quality of their products and services.

 

The Benefits of Defining “Quality”

In its daily use, the term “quality” is generally used to describe the state or condition of something regarding value (i.e., poor, fair, good, excellent). However, how “quality” is defined in the automotive arena is vastly different. In that context, “quality” is accomplished by conformance to specifications, requirements, and standards. It is a measurable practice that fulfills product or service needs as intended. This use of the term extends past how people outside of the industry may use it because it is much more specific.

To achieve quality in the automotive world, companies must establish and maintain their quality control based on conformity to the aforementioned aspects. Conforming to specifications guarantees that products function within specific margins of error and perform as they are intended. Conforming to requirements displays that companies can deliver products and services to the needs of other OEMs and suppliers, as well as their own. Then, conforming to standards is an important aspect of having a QMS because it ensures that your products align with ISO (or other) standards, something key in quality control.

What Is an Automotive Quality Management System (QMS)?

A Quality Management System (QMS) is a formalized system—which defines how they will conduct business, what their products/services are, who their customers will be, and what risks and opportunities are before them—that companies build and implement to enhance how they evaluate and manage quality. Quality assurance and quality control are processes embedded in managing quality—the former referring to plans created beforehand to ensure products or services are satisfactory, and the latter referring to steps taken after those products or services are provided to customers to ensure that those plans are adequate. A QMS should be looked at as the development of each of those processes made into a systemic framework.

Within this framework, QMSs can have several different functions and capabilities. These systems document processes, procedures, and responsibilities that achieve companies’ quality policies and objectives. By managing these processes and responsibilities, a company can verify that everything aligns with their needs and the requirements are met for OEMs and themselves. Additionally, these systems guarantee that companies’ products are maintaining their intended functionality. There are several benefits that a QMS can offer, all connecting back to the concept of quality and its direct correlation to the comprehensive functionality of a company’s products and services.

The Benefits of Automotive Quality Management Systems

While implementing a QMS sets the bar for the quality of products and services, it also can directly and positively affect multiple aspects of a company’s performance—such as project productivity, evidence-based decision making, revenue, and operational consistency—reaffirming the importance of maintaining quality control. Thinking in terms of long-term results, it is extremely beneficial to make adjustments when necessary to improve a company’s performance as this directly correlates to overall costs—and thus profit as well.

Another key benefit of a QMS is that it should lower the occurrence of product and system failures. A QMS aims to consistently provide quality products. But in the automotive arena, in particular, it is of tremendous importance to note that investment in a QMS can help prevent the fallout caused by a production recall, both in terms of financial outlay as well as damage to the company’s reputation. Such an event reflects upon the overall quality of products and services.

There is no question that the process of building and implementing a QMS can be time-consuming and expensive, especially during audits. But the benefits of having a QMS within your company should far outweigh any such negatives. For example, most companies utilize a third-party supplier to ship their products. If a QMS (via purchasing) provides the opportunity to vet your suppliers, you could recognize their lack of reliability or overly expensive shipping costs. Thus, a QMS could help identify an alternative shipping option that is both less expensive and more reliable.

QMS

The Elements & Requirements of Automotive Quality Management Systems

There are different types of Quality Management Systems that companies can use across each industry. For example, ISO 9001 is a commonly used system within automotive, while AS9100 is a system used primarily within aerospace. Deciding which type to implement depends on each company’s specific needs and goals, but regardless, the main elements of any QMS should include:

  • Quality policy
  • Quality objectives
  • Quality manual
  • Data management
  • Document control
  • Company procedures, instructions, and responsibilities

These overlapping elements reaffirm the additional benefits from QMS implementation, outside of its direct influence on the quality of product functionality. From an internal aspect, these elements allow a company to improve areas of leadership while providing staff with opportunities to learn company policies and internal procedures. From an external aspect, they mitigate the occurrence of failure and improve the customer experience. There are several layers that these benefits contribute towards, and all combined can make a tremendous impact on a company willing to invest in a QMS.

What Importance Does ISO Have on Automotive Quality Management Systems?

 

ISO Family of Standards

There are several international standards a company can use for a QMS which are dependent upon the specific industry, as well as what specific needs are at the time. These systems are often defined by the user company. ISO 9001-2015, for example, is a general standard used as a guide and benchmark in many industries. Once defining the system you have implemented, ISO helps comply with and maintain that system, which also encourages companies to continuously monitor and improve. In the automotive industry, the most common standards that companies are certified in include: IATF 16949, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO 45001.

Each standard ensures that companies’ products, services, and processes are efficient, but some can provide additional guidance in other areas. ISO 45001, for example, strives toward creating a safe and healthy physical working environment. ISO 14001, on the other hand, focuses on how to improve environmental impact, such as vehicles’ CO₂ emission. Overall, ISO standards are critical within the implementation of Quality Management Systems because they help reduce operational risk while improving product reliability.

Types of ISO Audits

There are four types of audits—internal, external, certification, and surveillance—and the audit activity depends on the company’s overall goals, budget, etc. Any staff member within a managerial role can conduct internal audits, and they often help prepare the company for an upcoming external audit. These types of audits verify how much your system aligns with ISO standards. Both ISO certification and surveillance audits fall under the umbrella of an external audit but have more specific purposes. Overall, an external ISO certification audit should serve as the most useful when implementing a QMS.

How to Prepare for an ISO Audit

When preparing for an external auditor to come, there are actions a company should take early in the process to ensure success. Creating a long-term schedule, including all important company deadlines, can help avoid problems that may arise. The more time-oriented you are from the beginning, the more prepared you will continue to be throughout. For example, if you are undergoing certification for a specific standard with staff training requirements, it is important to have evidence of that. Documenting things like training programs, test scores, evaluations and reviews, and attendance all influence ISO certification. Be sure to have checklists made, and as each milestone within your schedule approaches, follow those checklists closely.

One recommendation of what not to do is do not conceal corrective and preventive actions (CAPAs). Some quality managers will try hiding these to prevent auditors from becoming suspicious. It can be more suspicious to have little to none within your company’s QMS because CAPAs help identify any issues with products and processes. In addition, it is recommended that your QMS agenda adheres to the most updated ISO standard version. For example, ISO 9001:2015 supersedes ISO 9001:2008, so you would prepare for the audit based on—the 9001:2015—version.

It is also vital for companies to have organized management resources; auditors will sometimes consider systems insufficient if any are missing or incomplete. It is also very important that your work environment itself is organized. How long an audit takes often is a direct reflection on your company’s organization (or lack thereof) and the QMS being audited.

All of these methods should help companies prepare for audits, while also maintaining efficiency within the QMS process. In many instances, these external auditors do not intend to punish or reprimand those building QMSs, but rather provide opportunities for learning that will improve these systems and confirm their compliance with ISO standards. They are critical in this process because the data they provide often intertwines with how companies go back to review and readjust their system. Again, the system itself maintains the quality of products, which have an intended way of functioning.

 

Summary

Evaluating and maintaining quality ensures that products meet their expectations in terms of functionality, and the process of implementing Quality Management Systems helps achieve that, ultimately leading to customer satisfaction. A QMS provides several internal and external benefits that are vital for improving quality within the automotive industry. These systems should help evaluate and maintain quality so that products and services function as intended, further extending benefits to many other parts of a company. These systems allow growth in performance by:

  • meeting the company’s, OEM’s, and suppliers’ requirements;
  • improving processes and procedures; and
  • producing consistent results overall.

Companies who look to strengthen the efficiency of their processes, products, and services—in addition to optimizing external collaboration—should consider implementing a QMS. If a QMS is already in place and has been for some time, companies should also explore different systems that could better suit their needs.

The way that quality is managed and maintained can change, based on things like technological advances, or global/environmental factors. With these potential changes within the automotive industry, companies should strive towards adapting to these moments of change in the best way that they can. In the end, it is essential to improve all of these aspects within the automotive industry to create safer vehicles on the roads, and evaluating and maintaining quality is a key process leading toward that goal.

 

Interested in learning more about Automotive QMS for your organization? Contact our team today!

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Donald Lakin

Written by Donald Lakin

Don Joined LHP in 2016 after an early retirement to serve as a Technical Advisor and to manage the LHP QMS. Don started his career developing processes for solid-state sensors, specifically MEMS devices. He later worked as an Instrumentation Engineer, applying those semiconductor Process skills to rotating turbine engine hardware and to define solid state sensors for use in diesel engine electronic controls. He has served in General management roles in semiconductor processing, environmental lab testing, Electronic Functional Excellence, 6S, and Quality. Don holds degrees in Engineering and in Business Administration. He is a USAF veteran.