A high degree of intelligence is being built into the automobile as part of the automotive electronics product development process. At the same time, the increase in feature content and the demand for rolling out new products in record time is further compressing quality cycle times and causing an increase in warranty costs and expensive recalls.
It is observed that the absence of timely information during product testing and the short timeframes of development is the root cause for product issues to slip through testing cycles. The intelligence that is being built into the vehicle can be leveraged to monitor and relay information on key product parameters through the use of diagnostics and vehicle health management practices and thereby contain warranty costs.
Product development in the automotive scenario revolves around balancing four key drivers: Feature competitiveness
It is imperative for a product to remain competitive on all the above parameters. Time-to-market, costs of development, and defects in quality have to continually decrease over time, while feature competitiveness should be on the upswing.
In this article, we will focus on the important topic of quality defects and warranty issues, which have a significant impact on the other parameters. We will identify the technology multipliers available within the automotive industry that can manage and possibly prevent warranty costs from spinning out of control.
Today's automotive architecture is built towards connectivity
A look at the technologies incorporated into today's vehicle provides one with the realization that the vehicle itself is a physical extension of the automotive chain, connected to the enterprise at one end and increasingly able to report on the operating parameters within the vehicle at the other end. This connectivity between the vehicle-level operating parameters and the decision-making parameters at the organizational level is what will determine the monitoring and control aspect of the warranty management proposal.
Example: Tire pressure monitoring (TPM)
The case study of the Firestone Tire/Ford Explorer incidents is well known and is responsible for triggering the TPM system legislation that provides advance information to prevent tire-pressure-related safety incidents.
The same technologies can now be utilized to monitor and diagnose other key safety and warranty-related parameters such as engine pressure variations, vibration to detect manifold leakage or cylinder/piston wear, transmission gear anomalies, and so on.
Example: General Motors OnStar program
The case study of the GM OnStar initiative is a solid example of how vehicle information is connected to the organizational enterprise to provide real-time diagnostic information. Vehicle health information received from all the sensory electronics can be transferred through telematics to a receiving station, which can then process the data in comparison to diagnostic databases and appropriately direct to warranty related applications, or forward the data to parts suppliers.
Onboard diagnostics and OBD2
OBD2 (or OBDII) defines a communications protocol and a standard connecter to acquire data from passenger cars. It was required by U.S. EPA on all gasoline powered cars and light duty trucks manufactured for the U.S. after 1996 to help monitor/inspect vehicle emissions. Canada required it after 1998, and now a European standard (EOBD) is also enforced. Theoretically, the OBD2 could provide any data that any of the sensors are capable of reporting.
Generic data is mandated by legislation and comprises information such as calculated engine load, coolant temperature, data about short and long term fuel trim (whether the engine is adjusting lean or rich), fuel pressure, manifold air pressure, engine RPM, vehicle speed, ignition advance, intake air temperature, air flow, throttle position, and O2 sensor data. Extended data includes any data that is not in the above "generic" set. Almost every manufacturer provides many more data points that their own proprietary scan tools are capable of reading.
It is this extended data section that could be utilized towards the data requirements for warranty related diagnostics.