Industry Forum

Published: May 2021

Why it’s time to problem-solve problem-solving, urges Adam Woodward, Principal Engineer – Automotive Management Systems at SMMT QMD.

Any wholesale transition to a new set of rules and requirements takes time to bed in. Who can believe that we are now four years into the IATF 16949 quality management standard?

At this stage, many companies are navigating their way through the first re-certification cycle, an in-depth assessment covering all of the IATF 16949 requirements ideally in person, Covid restrictions permitting – following surveillance audits during the first two years. If successful, a new IATF 16949 certificate is issued with a three year duration.

To help automotive manufacturers remain compliant, SMMT QMD periodically releases data on nonconformities, the latest publication showing the most common major and minor nonconformities raised globally over the past 12 months.


A problem of problem-solving? 

The past 12 months saw a range of nonconformities highlighted. They include contingency planning, total productive maintenance, customer satisfaction, manufacturing process design output, control planning, and monitoring and measurement of manufacturing processes, among others.

Standing out above the rest, and by a considerable margin however, are ‘nonconformity management and corrective action’ and ‘problem-solving’. These numbers include those minor nonconformities that have been escalated to major as a result of ineffective onsite verification. This escalation requirement also demands the issuance of a new major nonconformity against nonconformity and corrective action.

Why is this such a serious issue? The simple answer is that major nonconformities will result in the automatic suspension of an organisation’s IATF 16949 certification. It also suggests a major risk to the customer, jeopardising the organisation’s ability to be effective at what it does, and potentially, to develop new business. That’s something no manufacturer needs, especially now.

As a reminder, here is what the IATF is looking for – specifically, a documented process for problem solving that prevents recurrence:

  1. Defined approaches for various types and scale of problems.
  2. Containment, interim actions and related activities necessary for control of nonconforming outputs.
  3. Root cause analysis – methodology used, analysis and results.
  4. Implementation of systemic corrective actions, including consideration of their impact on similar processes and products.
  5. Verification of the effectiveness of implemented corrective actions.
  6. Reviewing and updating appropriate documentation.

This needs to be evidenced to IATF auditors, beyond the presentation of such documents – examples of the various processes being used to solve real-world problems are required.

We see a common theme linked to manufacturers being able to show that they understand what the problem is in the first place. Have they taken sufficient time to understand the problem before diving in with solutions?

It is important to maintain a structured approach to find the root cause, rather than just adopting a sticking plaster approach.

Here, culture and messaging from the top is crucial. Managers need to consider whether they are providing their employees with the skills required to problem solve effectively and, critically, allowing them the time to invest in it properly.

There is also something to be said around the type of problem being faced. For example, customer product complaints create a sense of alarm and an urge for immediate action for the organisation, whereas supplier problems, internal audit findings, internal concerns may not be met with the same level of response urgency – this could lead to inconsistencies. Inconsistencies are red flags in the IATF audit process.


How to master problem solving and maintain an effective quality management system

There are plenty of steps your organisation can take to enhance its problem-solving capabilities, in support of the IATF goals.

SMMT QMD and Industry Forum offer a problem solving for IATF 16949 course to help companies prepare themselves to meet the requirements of the standard. It’s a practical approach to problem-solving that focuses on empowering employees with the knowledge of how to address issues.

There are also many known and well-recognised approaches to problem-solving that can help get manufacturers where they need to be.

We offer specialist training, which is specifically aimed at the IATF 16949 context, helping firms to ensure they are ready to meet the requirements of the standard.

We also run courses that support other recurring IATF 16949 nonconformities:

APQP and PPAP Essentials

Statistical Process Control (SPC) Training

Measurement Systems Analysis (MSA) Training

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) for IATF 16949

We want to be as practical and hands-on as possible. Because we see the same themes pop up in relation to nonconformities, our courses are designed to empower your employees with the knowledge they need to apply it decisively in the workplace. This, coupled with our other core tools, will help make your organisation not only compliant, but also more efficient and better-managed.

Problem-solving is a critical component of any successful business, and perhaps something we take for granted in the automotive supply chain world. The aerospace sector has already developed its own industry-wide problem solving standard in the form of AS13000 – this, we believe, could be a sound example to follow in the future.

Given the recurring prominence of problem solving in the non-conformance data released by the SMMT QMD, we would like to understand more about your experience with relation to the discipline. Please complete this short survey. We will publish the findings in our next blog.