By John W. Scanlan, J.D.
Takata Corp. must make significant improvements in addressing quality-related concerns, ensure quality in its design and manufacturing processes, and promote quality through improved management processes, the Independent Takata Corporation Quality Assurance Panel stated in a newly-issued report. The panel, headed by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner, was set up in the wake of the recall of Takata airbag inflators to make forward-looking recommendations but did not attempt to assess past practices, evaluate Takata products, or analyze any specific product failure (Ensuring Quality Across the Board: The Report of the Independent Takata Corporation Quality Assurance Panel, February 2016).
Recommendations. The panel found that Takata teams responsible for identifying quality-related problems with its products lacked clearly-defined roles and processes for responding to quality concerns, relying primarily on reports from auto manufacturers because Takata had no stand-alone program of its own. The roles of employees responsible for externally-raised quality issues should be formalized and specific processes for responding to those issues should be developed. Quality personnel should be given the ability to stop the design process when quality concerns are identified, and data from quality performance testing must be accurately reported.
Although Takata’s airbag inflators undergo extensive quality testing subject to specifications provided by auto makers, regulators, and industry organizations, the panel suggested that the company should develop its own testing specifications. The company should also adopt a standard practice for third-party review of its products’ design and operation, as well as increase and standardize its use of automation across processes and plants. The design review process must become more of a rigorous quality evaluation rather than an exercise in completion, with the process more outcome- and quality-driven and with manufacturing involved earlier in the design process, the panel said.
Finding that implementing many of these recommendations would require a cultural change at the company, the panel recommended that every employee undergo regular quality-specific training and that employees be rotated through quality team jobs. Takata’s leadership should show greater support for quality initiatives, and compensation should be linked to quality performance indicators. The report stated that Takata will report to the panel in one year on its progress in implementing these and other recommendations from the report.
Other recommendations. Noting that Takata and its competitors apply different safety standard evaluations to their airbag inflator products, the panel recommended that suppliers, manufacturers, and regulators work together to develop a generally applicable safety standard for these products. It also suggested the adoption of “use-by” dates for vehicle safety systems that degrade over time and the regular replacement of components as they pass those dates.
Companies: Takata Corp.
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