Putting car development under the quality microscope

Steinbeis student provides central QM support at Mercedes-Benz

Car giant Daimler employs more than a quarter of a million people in 90 countries. Its car portfolio ranges from small cars to HGVs as well as upstream and downstream value chain activities such as financial and support services. Global companies like this wouldn’t be able to survive without quality management but it’s not without its headaches. Verena Schabernack, a student on the Master of Business Administration program at Steinbeis University Berlin (SHB) is examining central QM on specific car models with the aim of pinpointing improvements. Her project will help managers define QM guidelines for the next generation of the Mercedes-Benz GL Class.

Quality is a key success factor. The quality of a product depends essentially on perception and the customer’s opinion of your product. Mercedes-Benz has charged the central quality management department in its car division with the task of designing and setting up an end-to-end QM system. The priority will be to improve product and process quality across all Mercedes-Benz models, particularly in product development. Cars are becoming increasingly complex, there are more types of models, the pressure to innovate is intensifying, and last but not least customers are becoming more quality-conscious meaning quality management has to be taken extremely seriously when it comes to product development. By identifying the source of faults in the first place, as early as the development stage, they can be eradicated saving money wasted on rectifying errors and last minute changes just before or after cars go into full production.

This applies equally to the development of the next Mercedes-Benz GL-Class. The news may be filled with items on CO2 emissions, but the sport utility vehicle (SUV) market is still growing. As a result, development projects are becoming increasingly important to the company – which is where Verena Schabernack, a student at Steinbeis University, comes into the equation with her degree project. Verena has been asked to analyze the optimization potential on the existing GL class. Her topic is a key strategic issue as the success of the new model depends on it.

The QM managers in the development department have already defined the goal: to improve quality in the long term product development process for vehicles, motors and electrical/electronic systems. The company already has established techniques and processes for improving the standard of concepts, manufacturing and on-going car quality. All product and process related
activities are clearly documented in quality handbooks and coordinated by a quality project manager during the product development process. As a member of the project management team, the quality project manager is involved in planning and supervising the new car project. Quality management chiefly focuses on two aspects during the development process. First: improving the quality of the initial concept. Working with Verena Schabernack, the quality project manager is evaluating quality sensors used on the existing model and is responsible for identifying potential improvements and introducing them to the new model. This removes conceptual failings with the previous model even before the next model takes shape. The second priority for QM is to safeguard – early – what the company calls the car “maturity level” as it is prepared for serial production. This is achieved through continual assessment of the maturity level and translating findings into actions.

The next GL Class model is still at the beginning of the development process so one of the main challenges for quality management, and Verena Schabernack’s degree project, will be to ensure that the potential to improve quality actually filters through to the development process and hopefully beyond. Resulting in even more satisfied customers driving the GL class.

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