Building Quality through Part Traceability

Automotive supplier ByTec helps a tier-one customer attack warranty costs by leveraging the track and trace capabilities in a Web-based MES


By Editorial Staff

In the fall of 2004 Visteon was searching desperately for a new supplier for the unitized center bearing (UCB) used on Ford F-150 trucks and the new Mustang. It was re-sourcing the UCB because the previous supplier had serious quality problems, which exposed shortcomings in its inventory control and increased the potential of future warranty costs to Ford.

ByTec, Inc., located in Clinton, Mich., pitched to Visteon that it could handle the business. ByTec knew it had the experience and ability to make the part, but Visteon demanded more than production capability. It wanted proof of a strong traceability system before awarding the work. Taking up the challenge, ByTec turned to a Web-based manufacturing execution system from Plexus Systems to help the company establish the process and inventory control it needed to win the Visteon business.

Attacking Warranty Costs

The UCB is a combination bearing/vibration damping device that bolts to the frame of rear-wheel-drive vehicles, limiting driveshaft bowing and vibration. It's critical for reducing noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) and, ultimately, cutting warranty costs. ByTec management knew it could not afford to take on this difficult, high-liability business without a strong system to protect the company, something that would provide the tools needed to identify and correct material and manufacturing issues that had been inherited along with the existing design.

Reducing warranty costs is crucial to Visteon and the rest of the automotive industry. The United States spent more than $25 billion on warranty costs last year, and 50 percent of this came from the U.S. automotive industry, with $3.7 billion out of Ford's pocket alone. Approximately 50 percent of all warranty claims are related to NVH issues.

In 2004 Ford announced that it intended to charge suppliers for half of the overall cost of a product recall and would deduct the money from the supplier without negotiation. Do the math on those warranty costs, and it's no wonder Visteon was all ears when ByTec promised every part it shipped would have a unique identity with full traceability back through the entire process. Quickly limiting the scope of any problem is key to minimizing the potential damage and cost.

Success or Failure — Traceability was the Key

Visteon's previous UCB supplier could not provide the necessary process and inventory controls to address the part's inherent challenges and almost went out of business trying. Its quality problems began when a rubber bushing sometimes became too hard, which reduced the UCB's damping ability and allowed normal driveshaft vibrations to be transmitted into the passenger compartment.

Since each part was labeled with only a Julian date, all parts marked with that date were suspect. Even if all the UCBs from that day were contained, there was no traceability to ensure Visteon that parts produced in the days before and after shouldn't be contained as well. This resulted in large and expensive containment campaigns whenever a problem occurred. Even more importantly, there was nothing to help the supplier understand, contain and correct the root cause of the problem. The supplier chased the problems for months, spent millions of dollars — and eventually cried uncle.

To address this challenge, ByTec adopted Plexus Online, an on-demand information system for manufacturing companies that includes a manufacturing execution system to manage the part serialization, direct part marking, component tracking and control, quality management, statistical process control (SPC)/measurement data tracking, and part traceability. For every individual piece in the field, Plexus Online now provides the production date/time, the machines and operators that made it, the in-process measurement data, the supplier and serial numbers of the components that went into it, the steel chemistry of the raw material, and additional relevant information.

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