“Customers are demanding their cars be safer and more fuel efficient, and they expect improvements in technology and fewer problems. We’re meeting those challenges all at the same time.
– SIA V.P. of Quality Control Ed Wulbrecht
At the New York International Auto Show in April, Subaru revealed the sleeker, quieter, more efficient 2015 Outback with significantly improved handling. Manufacturing such a vehicle – especially with its advanced technology – demands extraordinary quality control. While everyone at SIA follows defined processes to maintain quality, it’s critical to Ed Wulbrecht and his quality control department, which maintains unrelenting and constant processes of auditing, checking, and confirming.
Wulbrecht and his department of approximately 300 people monitor products assembled by SIA as well as 55 vendors. Through their efforts, the department helps ensure the reliability of the Subaru vehicles that you drive. Their stringent processes apply to everyone who touches the vehicles in any manner, whether they’re new suppliers, current suppliers, or internal departments within SIA.
Photo: Michael Mattingly, SIA
SIA’s first step when finding new suppliers starts with a risk assessment, looking to see whether there are any warranty problems and recalls from other car companies. These suppliers are also asked to provide information about their previous performances as vendors.
Then SIA sends quality-control teams to the supplier’s plants, where they audit quality-management systems: how the supplier controls its processes, how it trains people, how it makes sure the associates are doing their jobs correctly, and what kind of poka-yoke devices the supplier has to prevent defects. (An example of a poka-yoke device is a USB port, into which a plug may be inserted in only one way.)
Once Wulbrecht’s department determines that a company’s quality-management system is strong enough, SIA allows them to bid on new business.
For current suppliers, SIA has quality targets – less than 10 problems per million parts delivered. More than half of our suppliers have zero problems.
What makes the SIA system work so well is cooperation. “If one of our suppliers has a problem, we go help them – we’ll go to their plant within a day to figure out what’s going on,” Wulbrecht explained. “We’ll audit their facilities and quality-management system. We’ll send engineers to stay with them for a couple weeks and work on problems. We just try to help them get better.”
Ronan Miot is the Vice President of Operations at Heartland Automotive, which supplies instrument panels and other components to SIA. He agrees about the cooperative relationship: “It’s a cordial and warm association. It’s very unique. It’s an exchange; it’s a sharing. SIA is a great help to us, and, in turn, we try to provide them with the best product.”
Photo: Michael Mattingly, SIA
Every nut, bolt, system, and subassembly used by SIA to build a vehicle like the 2015 Outback is the result of an exacting process of cooperative quality control. It begins at the time of conceptualizing a vehicle.
Take the instrument panel for the 2015 Outback as an example. Work on it began four years ago. The instrument-panel assembly that Heartland delivers to SIA is complex and involves more than what can be seen. Among the components housed by the instrument panel are audio, climate-control, and safety systems, along with the more obvious electronic controls, computer displays, warning lights, instruments, and air vents. Every component and every system must function properly.
Miot explained that work on the instrument panel starts with the concepts, then moves on to CAD drawings and prototypes – all the while meeting SIA’s design requirements. Heartland has employees stationed at Subaru to help design and ensure all information is accurate. “It’s a joint development process to ensure a good output,” commented Miot.
For the 2015 Outback, everything from the ground up – from tires and wheels to roof rails and moonroofs – must pass muster for quality by SIA’s quality control department. Focus on quality gives Subaru the confidence to expand the vehicle’s capabilities and features.
“I tell people we don’t make cars like we used to. We make them a hell of a lot better – better than they’ve ever been in the history of carmaking by every measure.”
– Ed Wulbrecht