Alex Koprivc, Automotive Industry Manager at Zwick/Roell, talks to AZoM about quality assurance trends in the automotive industry.
Can you describe the main challenges currently associated with quality assurance in the automotive industry?
The primary quality challenges include lightweight construction and increased efficiency. These challenges are reflected very strongly in materials development, component design and joining technology.
Classical materials such as steel and aluminum are subject to constant development. At the same time, the industry has begun introducing alternatives that offer weight advantages and possible cost savings. These materials must provide comparable functionality, workability and recyclability – stimulating an ongoing requirement for materials testing. In addition, components with significantly reduced weight must still satisfy exacting safety requirements.
The BMW i3 electric vehicle was designed from start to finish around the electric powertrain. It is comprised of two main sections, a carbon fiber composites-based passenger area and a drive area constructed of aluminum. Source: BMW AG
It is also important to use the optimum material in the right location. This imperative imposes particular demands on joining technology, which must hold this mixture of materials together on a long-term basis.
What effect do concepts such as VW's Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) have on quality assurance?
The standardization of components across multiple models results in significantly greater volumes of these parts, which are produced at various sites around the world. This strategy requires that quality and safety standards be maintained and sustained worldwide. Recalls can assume global proportions.
Are there any additional quality challenges related to this concept?
Producing vehicles in the place where they will be sold requires the distribution of sufficient technical expertise to be able to produce the same high quality in China or Brazil. Many different parameters have to be taken into account. For example, a testing machine in China may provide test results which differ significantly from those obtained from an identical machine in the parent plant. To eliminate such differences, greater emphasis must be placed on employee qualifications, processes, reliable testing equipment and first-class communication.
What effects does globalization have on measuring and testing technology specialists?
Admittedly we only provide the testing technology, but we must help our customers around the world to use it correctly and efficiently. That means we must deliver product quality and comprehensive services anywhere and everywhere. Our customers must be able to rely on us - worldwide.
What strategies does Zwick use to make sure test results are consistent across its global customer base?
We must ensure that companies using our products are not completely dependent on how the end-user handles the measuring instrument. The testing system must be able to tell the operator how good the measurement he/she has performed was.
The operator needs to know the degree of measurement uncertainty present and how this can be reduced. We are therefore working on incorporating even more intelligence into our software and on excluding sources of error.
In the automotive industry, larger components for vehicles are increasingly coming from suppliers, with the OEM in effect simply orchestrating assembly. Does this also have an impact on quality assurance?
Outsourcing generally requires the OEM to work very closely with suppliers. The greater the distance from the OEM, the more difficult this becomes. OEMs typically seek multiple sources within their respective supply chains, working with alternative suppliers in order to facilitate a rapid response to changes in supply.
Zwick works hard to make the OEM's job easier, for example by ensuring testing is as transparent and manageable as possible. The testing software enables the maximum possible number of parameters to be managed and documented. The OEM can then have real confidence in the testing certificate the supplier provides.
You mentioned new materials. Is the impression that quality assurance always lags slightly behind such innovations justified?
When a new material is developed, or an existing one upgraded, it is first necessary to familiarize yourself with the properties of the material. You need to understand how it will behave under certain conditions, for example under particular loads or at certain temperatures. It is therefore entirely possible that existing test standards are no longer appropriate and new ones must be developed for new materials. These will then be applied later, during series production.
Is it possible to test too much?
It is possible to test materials or components to excess. In so doing one will certainly gain even more knowledge, but it would not be economically worthwhile. With its decades of experience and modern statistical methods, the automotive industry has the matter well under control.
One material which is currently gaining in importance in the automotive industry is CFRP. What particular demands does CFRP place on quality assurance?
CFRP is actually already well known from its use in the aviation sector, which also has a firm grip on test standards and testing technology. However, this does not translate one-to-one to the automotive industry. Requirements for the two sectors differ fundamentally, so the automotive industry must develop its own standards.
What are the differences between quality testing for automotive compared to aviation?
Longer development cycles and smaller production runs mean that quality managers in the aviation industry have significantly more time in which to validate materials and components. Historically they have also been able to make use of knowledge borrowed from military technology. In addition, regulation has considerably more influence in aviation than in the automotive industry.
The demands placed on CFRP components in aircraft also differ from those found in motor vehicles. There are major differences in component shapes and sizes (large, flat areas vs. compact shapes), temperatures (aircraft down to -50°C), loads (cyclic vs. shock) and in crash behavior (planes do not require crumple zones).
The testing requirements for components therefore differ also. This must be taken into account and test standards developed specifically for the automotive industry.
The BMW example shows that CFRP could play a major part in the field of electric vehicles. Are all test methods fully developed already, or is action still required?
We assume that electric cars will create a need for increased testing in future. So far, however, that has not been the case. This is because the majority of electrically powered vehicles are conventional production models in which the internal combustion engine has been replaced by an electric motor, thus allowing test methods to be derived from existing procedures.
BMW’s i3 utilizes proprietary adhesives provided by Dow Chemical to join the passenger cell made of composites to the aluminum drive module. Similar adhesives have employed in the aerospace industry to join mixed materials. Source: BMW AG
By contrast, vehicles such as the Opel Ampera and BMW i3 are the first to be developed specifically for electric drives and to be capable of series production. As completely new development and design approaches are being pursued, with consistent employment of lightweight construction and the use of new materials and joining technologies, there is still some work to be done on testing.
Are special test methods required for electric vehicle components?
The same safety standards and criteria are applied to these vehicles as to conventional cars. There are as yet no binding standards relating to energy storage devices, with the result that some of the testing in this area is still quite rudimentary. The test methods have been adopted from the specifications for consumer batteries.
Due to the complexity of vehicles, however, it is not possible to transplant the rules for batteries in mobile telephones to the automotive industry on a one-to-one basis. Different conditions exist in vehicles; for example, mechanical deformations in the event of an accident must be taken into account and greater temperature variations, ranging between around -30 and +60°C, allowed for.
There are already initiatives dealing with this and various safety standards have recently come into being. However, these leave quite a lot of issues unresolved, particularly with regard to mechanical test methods, as there is simply not enough experience available yet.
Zwick provides support to OEMs, suppliers and testing service providers when they do not have access to the appropriate testing technology.
How is Zwick preparing for the new testing requirements of lightweight construction?
We maintain open contact with manufacturers and suppliers. In addition we provide modular solutions which customers can use with great flexibility.
This approach allows us to adapt easily to new requirements. We also operate a large testing laboratory in which we can carry out mechanical tests for customers and obtain objective, reliable results. Our testing lab also develops special tools to meet new challenges.
For example, Zwick developed special specimen grips which can hold very short metal specimens in tensile tests. Another example is non-contact strain measurement on specimens, for which we have developed special video and laser technology.
About Alex Koprivc
As automotive industry manager for Zwick/Roell, Koprivc directs the company’s engagement of major automotive OEMs and their respective suppliers on a global basis.
His position often finds him traveling to customer sites around the world to discuss testing requirements that range from materials selection routines to high throughput quality Ale evaluations.
Koprivc also maintains relationships with OEMs to coordinate global testing programs.
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