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Parts Commonality Can Make for Big Recall Headaches

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William K.
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Re: External engineering (excessive) vs commonality...
William K.   5/22/2014 10:03:05 PM
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NY Eng, you are certainly correct about cost being the number one consideration in vehicles, and nothing else comes close. The plants, including most of the folks on the line, all want to make a good product. But acounting and purchasing run the show. Of course sometimes they do suffer from excessive gifts from some vendors agents. I was made responsible for one such part, which the bid came in a day late but 5 cents cheaper on a $5 part. But the company producing the part had never done anything like it before, and they did not understand the problems that "pitch line runout" can cause in a gear train. As a EE of low rank on the job I found the problem and pointed it out to those above me. The response was that since I was not a master mechanical engineer I did not know anything about mechanicall stuff, and therefore I was wrong. But that was why the gear train would bind with temperature variations, which, since it was a control element in the idle speed system made it a safety item. And one did bind up for me while driving a lab car, holding the warmed up "idle" speed at 78MPH. The speed was so very high because at very cold temperatures it takes a bigger throttle opening to keep an engine running when first started. After a few seconds the required opening is less, so it is not a big deal, unless the idle speed controller sticks. 

My reward for finding the problem was being the first to be let go when the budget mandated a staff reduction. Thanks loads, Chrysler Fuel systems, dept 7430.

Ratsky
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Re: External engineering (excessive) vs commonality...
Ratsky   5/22/2014 2:26:43 PM
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Nyeng, I can heartily agree with this.  In my pesonal experience, I (and several ocunterparts from other suppliers) worked on a new global platform design for one of the big OEMs up to and through contarct awarding (but before the actual contracts were issued). I estimate between all the suppliers and the OEM engineering department, we invested tens of millions of $ to make sure everything would meet all the requirements and still meet the OEM's cost targets.  When all was presented to the OEM brass, the entire program was killed because the total vehicle cost came to $25 over the target! This ended up in  3-year delay in rolling out the new platform, and even then the costs were "too high."

nyeng
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Gold
Re: External engineering (excessive) vs commonality...
nyeng   5/22/2014 9:13:11 AM
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That switch cost $5 or less. The auto industry is obsessed with cost, at least Ford/gm/Chrysler. People say you should just spend another $20 and make it right. What's it matter on a $30000 vehicle? In my experience it would take an act of congress to add that much money to a high volume model. Saving a dollar is a big deal. I've seen lots of work go into saving a quarter on a high volume line. Common parts are the first thing to look for in a new design. Parts proliferation is an enemy of mass production. Adding more part numbers adds cost to plant logistics as well as the service parts organization. Those issues can have as much affect on price as the higher piece price of a lower volume part. Sometimes a common part can be overkill in a good way. I remember one design where a gearbox for a compact pickup had massive full size truck components stuffed in it. This was done because it was cheaper to make a large step on a shaft to hold an oversize clutch assy currently used in huge volume. It would have been way more money to right size the system for the application and engineer six new parts rather than one. There is a lot of talk here about engineering as the culprit and solution to this ign sw debacle. The truth is eng often does what it's told. The bean counters run the show. The purchasing people find somebody in China who will make the part for a dollar less. Maybe they can't hold print tolerance. Maybe their part doesn't last as long. Do you reject them? No you make the cheaper part work. You open up tolerances. Make the test spec looser. Failure life shorter. You engineer the product and the testing/validation to make the cheap part work- because that's what you as the auto engineer are paid to do. You as the eng made a validation plan that would let you sign off on it without lying even if said plan was a little inadequate. The purchasing exec gets their bonus. You as eng get to keep your job. And the finished product is a little less robust. When the shit hits the fan the executives and their bonuses are long gone since they jump company every two years. The supplier made their money and they are in china so you have no recourse on them. So you just blame the engineers.

bobjengr
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Platinum
COMMONALITY
bobjengr   5/22/2014 7:51:55 AM
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I think AMCLAUSSEN has a very good point here Charles. I know in the appliance industry there is too much dependence upon taking the component manufacturers' reliability numbers as the "gospel" and not doing individual testing to verify those numbers relative to application.  Time, schedules and money are the culprits.

Also, in some cases, there seems to be an attitude that if a common components worked for this subassembly they should work for another subassembly, consequently no need for "system" testing.  Each year, for appliances, the number one field service problem is electronics.  Number two—electrical systems. 

Excellent post. 

Cabe Atwell
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Blogger
Re: External engineering (excessive) vs commonality...
Cabe Atwell   5/21/2014 11:18:02 PM
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I'm curious about costs for those parts, I mean how much does an ignition switch cost? $15, $25, $35? How much is spent to engineer those devices, because at $1.3-billion, there should have been some simulation and testing involved. I know that it's impossible to account for everything that 'might' go wrong but come-on, where is the accountability? I agree with you 100% Amclaussen, a 'retooling' of today's engineering attitudes needs to be implemented and company practices need more scrutinization for that kind of taxpayer bailout. 

William K.
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Platinum
Re: External engineering (excessive) vs commonality...
William K.   5/21/2014 9:57:12 PM
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Nancy, testing parts can indeed serve to reject those that fail to meet specifications. I have designed a lot of industrial testing machines for the auto companies. BUT if the specification is wrong, or just the limits are wrong, then the testing is of very little value. So the question becomes one of what was the specified detent torque value, both for new switches and for those with a few thousand operations? And was that value adequate? Did anybody have a clue as to what the value should have been, and why it should have been that value?

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: But it is painful to point out a problem.
Charles Murray   5/21/2014 6:54:03 PM
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As I researched the ignition story, it became extremely confusing, I had to make multiple calls to GM to fully understand the succession of mistakes, William K. This went on for so long and went through the hands and past the eyes of so many people, that I don't doubt your humiliation scenario has some truth to it.

Nancy Golden
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Re: External engineering (excessive) vs commonality...
Nancy Golden   5/21/2014 5:20:02 PM
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naperlou - you literally took the words right out of my mouth...as i read the article , Q.C. and testing came immediately to mind. I don't see commonality so much as the issue - it doesn't matter what other vehicles have the same part - the defining criteria for any part should be - can it perform the job needed properly and is it of sufficient quality to do so safely? Testing methods such as gage R&R should be a part of any engineering process and when outsourcing parts, Q.C. samples should undergo stringent testing before the part is approved. Dropping the ball in the documentation chain is another culprit - those engineers should have known that changes were made to that switch. We all get frustrated at the time it takes to maintain a documentation paper trail but when done correctly, it prevents mistakes like having a missing ECN that results in a massive recall...

William K.
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Platinum
But it is painful to point out a problem.
William K.   5/21/2014 3:24:38 PM
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A bit has been mentioned about the coperate culture aspect of sitting on a problem, and that certainly was the case when I worked for Chrysler many years back. The management humiliation for pointing out any problem was quite extreme, the message was that it should be solved without bothering the big guys about it. So there was a valid reason for the engineers to be reluctant to push the concern.

One other thought is that perhaps some folks in marketing had complained that the switch was too hard to turn. Marketing people do that sort of thing, taking one vocal customers complaint and assuming that anybody else even cares.

naperlou
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Re: External engineering (excessive) vs commonality...
naperlou   5/21/2014 11:34:42 AM
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Quality control and testing are key when using suppliers.  This is something overlooked in many cases.  I have consulted with a number of businesses that had parts sourced from suppliers which went horribly wrong.  In some cases these were basic parts, in others assemblies.  The results ranged from lost customers to business failure. 

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