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Advancing the Standard PUBLIC ACCESS

Working Hard to Put Together its QS-9000 System, and Engineering Department Made Unexpected Gains.

[+] Author Notes

David K. Huber is a plaiforrn manager at the TRW Rack & Pinion Division in Rogersville, Tenn.

Garry D. Colernan is an assistant professor of industrial engineering at the University of Tennessee Space Institute in Tullahoma and a senior associate of The Performance Center.

Mechanical Engineering 121(10), 78-80 (Oct 01, 1999) (3 pages) doi:10.1115/1.1999-OCT-7

TRW's Rack & Pinion Division, a tier 1 automotive supplier, spent a lot of time and human energy preparing its engineering department as part of the company's efforts to be certified under QS-9000. In order to operate under a QS-9000 or ISO 9000 quality system, a company must standardize its practices, spell them out for employees and customers, and then be able to provide documentary evidence that the organization has followed its own procedures. The QS-9000 implementation process started at the Rack & Pinion Division in October 1995. Following an initial third-party assessment in late 1995, the division's top management decided that a complete rewrite of the engineering and quality system was required to comply with QS-9000. Changes in the department that resulted from implementing QS-9000, such as developing and using objective indicators, simplifying business systems, and introducing structured training, will have to be nurtured so they can grow and become the part of the department's culture.

Achieving QS-9000 registration is a must for all tier 1 automotive suppliers, and it takes hard work to make the grade. Since the end of 1997, the Big Three North American automobile manufacturers have required that their tier 1 suppliers be registered as operating to the requirements of the QS-9000 quality standard. Lower tier suppliers are also encouraged to seek registration.

Manufacturers outside the automotive industry are often encouraged by their customers to seek ISO 9000 registration, the primary standard upon which QS-9000 is based. Complying with these standards has become an important part of manufacturing management in general, as it has in the automotive industry.

Most manufacturing engineers would agree that the registration process is good for the factory floor and the end product. But what does it do for the engineering department that supports the factory? How do engineers see the effects of the changes necessary for QS-9000 registration? And what do they believe the process costs them in terms of work and results?

What's more, how closely do the engineers' opinions reflect objective measures of performance?

TRW's Rack & Pinion Division, a tier 1 automotive supplier, spent a lot of time and human energy preparing its engineering department as part of the company's efforts to be certified under QS-9000. Its experience involved stress and rewards, and showed what a company can encounter when it pursues QS-9000 or any registration that requires a major change in procedures.

The QS-9000 standard is a quality system developed by the U.S. automotive industry. It is based largely on the requirements defined in ISO 9001, section 4, of the international standards series, and it also contains a combination of requirements derived from the quality systems of the automotive equipment manufacturers, primarily Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler, and General Motors Corp.

For most companies, the effort to earn registration is significant. To operate under a QS-9000 or ISO 9000 quality system, a company must standardize its practices, spell them out for employees and customers, and then be able to provide documentary evidence that the organization has followed its own procedures.

When the Rack & Pinion Division implemented the standards, there were three sections in the QS-9000 requirements. The overall quality system requirements were based on ISO 9001 , section 4. For instance, this section requires that a company codify and document the procedures for design control, such as using design failure mode effects analysis.

The standards also encompass each automaker's requirements. Each of the three automakers has specific needs, such as a drawing format, for example, which includes the use of customer-specific symbols for key and safety characteristics of the product.

Another section of the standard, the automotive sector's specific requirements, common to all three manufacturers, was eliminated in the most recent edition of QS-9000. The most recent edition redistributed these requirements to the other two sections. This section included a requirement that suppliers define how they will conduct and document the production part approval process.

Registration doesn't guarantee quality, but it does ensure that the organization has reviewed and standardized the design of its processes and has in place methods to see that the processes meet their stated objectives.

TR W's Rack & Pinion Division, headquartered in Rogersville, Tenn. , is a manufacturer of steering system components for automotive OEMs. The engineering department plays a number of critical roles in the business , including communication with customers, product design, manufacturing process design, quality assurance, and test and evaluation. The approximately 60 engineering employees were previously organized into separate functional departments: product engineering, manufacturing engineering, quality engineering, and platform management. Platforms are vehicle designations, such as minivan , light truck, and passenger car.

The QS-9000 implementation process started at the Rack & Pinion Division in October 1995. Following an initial third-party assessment in late 1995, the division's top management decided that a complete rewrite of the engineering and quality system was required to comply with QS-9000. Activities in the engineering department began in June 1996. Implementation team leaders were selected to organize the rewrite activities and these people then selected other individuals to develop the new procedures for the department.

The engineering organization was changed in December 1996 to bring all functions into one department. This organization was implemented in order to align the engineering department with the customer platform organizations and to provide an ongoing management system for continuous improvement after product launch.

The reorganization left two legs to the engineering organization: platform engineering and component engineering. The platform teams are responsible for obtaining the requirements from the customer platforms and communicating design criteria to the rest of the engineering department.

The chief engineer has component engineers and team leaders reporting directly to him. These people are responsible for the detailed design and analysis of the steering units and their component parts.

The reorganization was a response in part to customers' concerns. The departmental change forced a review of all the engineering procedures, to see if they still applied to the new structure. Many of them did not, and so had to be revised or completely rewritten.

This was a second review and rewrite of the department's procedural rules in less than a year, and the work fell to the same people as the original development. Although diverting people to overhaul the procedural documents put a strain on the resources in the engineering department, it had the advantage of letting those who do the work develop the procedures.

We studied the process as it unfolded. We wanted to assess the impact of QS-9000 standards on the department's quality and productivity, and also to learn how the engineers themselves perceived the change.

We developed a questionnaire and sent it to everyone in the engineering department, and then tracked selected indicators of the department's performance over the period prior to and upon achieving registration.

The questionnaire was administered in September 1997, one month before the auditors' assessment and actual achievement of registration. This allowed the respondents to answer the questions based on their perception of the QS-9000 implementation process, before knowing whether or not registration would be achieved.

The questionnaire asked open-ended questions about the respondents ' knowledge of QS-9000, the impact of registration on their jobs, and their perceptions regarding the impact of QS-9000 on department productivity, quality, and culture. Forty-seven percent of the engineers and technicians in the department responded. We summarized their responses and looked for common themes in the answers to each question.

The performance indicators selected were the number of warranty claims per 100 vehicles sold and timeliness of fulfilling customer action requests. A reduction in the number of claims involving steering equipment designed by the division could be taken as a reflection of improvement in overall quality of the department's work. Reduced response time to customer action requests would represent improved productivity. These indicators were selected because they were objective, they were already used to measure the department's performance, and they provided trend data that could be correlated with departmental improvement activities.

The results of the questionnaire indicated a perception that implementing QS-9000 had a positive effect on the quality of work in the engineering department. Fifty percent of the respondents perceived an improvement in quality. Another 38 percent reported no effect or that it was too early to tell, while only 12 percent of the respondents perceived a degradation in the work.

Respondents cited various reasons for the perceived improvement, including improved quality and control of documentation. For example, the department had adopted better tracking methods, such as checklists, and standardized audit procedures because of QS-9000 requirements.

Others said there was more ' consistency and less ambiguity in the way work was done in the department. For example, the department had standardized the work instructions for prototype order processing and methods for conducting design reviews. More customer focus in the engineering department was due to the requirement for continuous improvement in products and services.

The department had committed itself to undertaking periodic reviews to find areas for improvement, acting upon them, and documenting what occurred.

The questionnaire results indicated that the department believed it had suffered a decline in productivity at the same time. Sixty-four percent of the respondents felt the implementation process had hurt the department's productivity. Only one in eight, 12 percent, perceived an improvement in productivity. The remaining 25 percent of respondents saw no change at all.

Given the additional workload of documenting and developing procedures for QS-9000, employees may have felt they weren't producing as much as usual in their day-to-day jobs. Reasons cited for reduced productivity included unfamiliar systems and processes introduced by QS-9000 requirements. Advanced product quality planning procedures required new documentation beyond that of the previous product launch process.

Some of the new requirements (for example, developing and using tracking documents) were perceived as non-value-added by a few respondents.

The perception 'was that QS-9000 had a positive effect on work quality in the engineering area.

After studying the results of the questionnaire, we compared them with the objective indicators of quality and productivity. A reduction in WarraI1.ty claims involving steering gears, the Rack & Pinion Division 's primary product, supported the perception of an improvement in quality. The number of warranty claims per 100 vehicles sold, measured by the division's customers, showed a 23 percent improvement from 1996 to 1997.

The perceived decline in the productivity of the department was contradicted by the objective data involving customer action requests, the formal request system for engineering support (for example, testing prototypes or design changes). The trend for meeting delivery dates for customer- requested activities improved from an average of 9 .67 days late (based on a customer-imposed deadline) to less than one day late by August 1997.

There was only one month during 1997 when performance deteriorated to a level comparable to the 1996 results. This coincided with the second rewrite of the department procedures, which placed a noticeable strain on resources at the time. This was expected, since the people who were revamping the procedures were the same ones responsible for the customer-related activities. Once the new systems were in place, action request performance and productivity improved. This productivity improvement appears to contradict the perception of the respondents, who may have been influenced by the increased workload during the implementation process.

The engineering department did many things right during the implementation process. Many people in the department were involved. Documentation and communication systems were upgraded (for example, the product launch process was upgraded to include advanced product quality planning requirements) to address the increased documentation and record keeping requirements. Training and audits were conducted throughout the department to familiarize everyone with the new system and requirements.

While conducting this study, one of the authors was heavily involved in the implementation process within the engineering department. From his perspective, the implementation process appeared successful. The company was recommended for registration and engineering department performance has improved since the new quality system was implemented. Based on the results of the survey and the objective indicators used to substantiate the results, implementing QS-9000 appears to have improved both the quality of work and the productivity of the engineering department at TR W's Rack & Pinion Division.

The information from this study will be used by the engineering department management to develop action plans to improve the QS-9000 system. This may include plans to simplify procedures and work instructions, to hold quality systems training, or to conduct internal audits to ensure compliance to the system.

Although many things were done right, continued vigilance is necessary to maintain the quality system. Also, continuous improvement in the performance indicators will have to be demonstrated through further reduced warranty rates and fewer late responses to customer action requests.

Changes in the department that resulted from implementing QS-9000, such as developing and using objective indicators, simplifying business systems, and introducing structured training, will have to be nurtured so they can grow and become the part of the department's culture. This will be key to maintaining QS-9000 registration and to the long-term prosperity of the company.

Copyright © 1999 by ASME
Topics: Engineers , Design , Vehicles , Teams
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