Source: Wall Street Journal
January 13, 2015 – Car parts suppliers are stepping up quality control efforts and the traceability of their components in the wake of an unprecedented wave of auto-safety recalls and massive fines against manufacturers.
Several are investing in new equipment to better automate defect-detection and assigning more employees to parts checks. Daicel Corp., which makes air bag inflaters, the explosive devices that pump up an air bag in event of a collision, has invested several million dollars to beef up its system for tracking inflaters shipped to customers, a spokesman said.
It acquired capable of carving letters data onto tiny metal parts, such as when and where the parts were made. Previously, Daicel attached bar codes to many parts, but some pieces were too small to do so.
“It’s not anything dramatic and it costs us money, but it’s important that we can immediately identify the range of potentially problematic products should an issue arise. Otherwise the problem could expand and we may have to use a lot of manpower to specify the range,” the spokesman said.
Aisin Seiki Co., the world’s fifth biggest automotive supplier by revenue, analysts said, is spending tens of millions of dollars to boost quality. It traditionally relied on experienced employees to detect and fix blow holes, or small pores, that occur in aluminum die casting. It bought new devices that catch such problems, and cut the defect rate by two-thirds, said Fumio Fujimori, the company’s president.
Power-steering systems maker Jtekt Corp. , which like Aisin is 23% owned by Toyota Motor Co., has doubled its traceability-related budget over the last few years, said spokesman Kenji Ando. The company is the world’s biggest maker of electric power steering systems.
Knowing what parts went to what customers proved a problem for air-bag maker Takata Corp., a major supplier of air bags to auto makers. In 2013 and 2014, auto makers recalled millions of vehicles after Takata said some of its records related to propellant manufacturing during 2000 through 2002 were incomplete, and that it didn’t know whether some machines had rejected faulty air bag propellants as they were supposed to have.
On Tuesday, the 10 auto makers affected by Takata air bag recalls were to gather in the Detroit area to choose a third-party engineering analysis expert, people familiar with the matter said. Auto makers including Honda and Toyota are investigating why certain Takata air bag inflaters are prone to exploding, a problem linked to five deaths and recalls involving around 25 million vehicles.
The auto makers take most of the heat and cost of recalls, as suppliers aren’t obligated to report quality problems to auto safety regulators in the U.S. or Japan. But regulators and law makers have been publicly shifting some of the blame onto those making the roughly 30,000 parts that go into new cars.
Last year, the chief executive of Delphi Automotive PLC, the manufacturer of faulty ignition switches at the center of General Motors Co. recalls, and a senior Takata executive, were hauled separately before congressional panels investigating auto defects.
Both suppliers also are targets of class-action lawsuits.
In Japan, the transport ministry, which oversees recalls and usually only communicates with auto makers, made a rare move in recent months to directly name Takata in news conferences and ordered it to act more quickly on recalls.
The scrutiny on suppliers came with a massive increase in recalls. Last year, U.S. auto recalls hit a record 63.8 million vehicles, according to Stericycle Inc., a Lake Forest, Ill.-based consulting company. In Japan, auto makers have recalled 8.8 million vehicles in the nine months to Dec. 31, government data showed, already surpassing record 8.0 million vehicles recalled last fiscal year.
“In the past, when there were recalls, [parts] suppliers were trying to meet the responsibility for auto makers, trying to win back their trust,” Kazumi Tamamura, CEO of NHK Spring Co. and the chairman of Japan Auto Parts Industries Association, told a news conference in December.
“Now that supplier names are being mentioned widely, the range of responsibilities that we face is expanding. Not only do we need to face auto makers but also consumers,” he said.