In an era of belt-tightening across the automotive industry, parts and vehicle manufacturers continually seek ways to cut costs.
When this happens, costs associated with tasks such as the increasingly ubiquitous International Material Data System requirement get relegated to the back of the line.
After all, the IMDS reporting requirements add nothing to profit margins. But the complex data are becoming more vital in the struggle to keep customers and earn new business. So what are the options?
Internationally, automotive OEM suppliers are finding themselves in the same trap. They’ve seen steady growth and increasing productivity. They’ve delivered parts within deadlines and under budget. Customers are pleased with production quality and even have come to rely on them in a pinch to fulfill rush orders.
Suddenly, an order is rejected. The client, previously so responsive and satisfied with the work, refuses to accept delivery of a recent shipment until one little line on the supplier’s paperwork is completed – something called IMDS. No shipment, and thus no payment, can be completed until this matter is resolved.
IMDS is an online platform hosted by MDSystem.com. The Internet-based program was created to track recyclable parts in vehicles. The goal is to improve recycling efforts when vehicles are no longer in use. Instead of adding more fodder to landfills, many automobile components can be recycled if their composition has been identified.
IMDS is the single source of this information. The records in the database include the material composition, weight and size of each component in every car for all the companies that participate in the IMDS program.
Current participants include most international automakers, and eventually will include the entire global auto industry.
IMDS began as an agreement between nine auto manufacturers and progressed until it reached the global impact it has today. In addition to storing the information, the database ensures OEMs their suppliers are complying with increasingly stricter international and national material-recycling laws. Most OEMs are using the IMDS standard for classifying auto parts.
Currently, any car sold in Europe must meet the regulatory requirements of the IMDS. To create uniformity among suppliers, automakers demand IMDS data to be recorded for all parts used in the U.S. and abroad. Even if the part being made is for a Mustang assembled in Michigan to be sold in Florida, it still needs to have IMDS data for each of its components.
Your IMDS Options
So what can you do when your customers ask you to supply an IMDS number? You have four options:
- Learn it yourself.
- Go back to school for it.
- Force your suppliers to do the work.
- Contract it out.
A number of licensed training programs teach IMDS procedures. Send your employees or go yourself to get a handle on the requirements and save the aggravation of waiting on others to do the work. However, there’s only one HP-certified training company teaching IMDS in the U.S., located in Ann Arbor, MI.
Alternatively, you can mix pleasure and business by taking a vacation to attend one of the many European training sites.
Like many engineers, you may prefer actual hands-on classroom training, but you have to consider the costs that include travel, hotel and meals for at least two people from your company. You will need to have a backup, after all. Bear in mind that during training, you’ll lose the productivity of those employees.
Another option is to look for an American training company that will teach IMDS to your employees, right at your location and tailored to your needs. This option also can be cost-prohibitive, because you have to hire outside consultants, as well as cover the time and space for the weeklong training.
IMDS is not a particularly difficult program to learn. If you have an engineering or business background, you should be able to find your way around the online system. There are even IMDS manuals available to guide you.
On the other hand, IMDS is not particularly intuitive. The program was designed by a government group, not human-factor experts who considered your needs or processes.
You’ll also need to set aside time to learning the system, valuable time that could be used more profitably elsewhere. If you hand the task off to an engineer or other staff member, you’ll lose their productivity, too. In a manufacturing business, time really is money.
Just as your customers pushed the IMDS requirement back to your company, you can do the same thing to your suppliers. However, even more complications could arise if you rely solely on this strategy:
· Your suppliers often are smaller companies than yours, so they have even less flexibility to fulfill the IMDS requirement than you do.
· Even if your suppliers completed their IMDS requirement, you still need to create a record for your product.
For example, if your company produces an in-dash console or a seatbelt assembly that includes components from a number of other suppliers, you still must merge the information from your suppliers to create an IMDS report for the entire assembly.
Getting your suppliers to provide their IMDS data may make your work slightly less cumbersome, but you still have more to do. Which puts you right back to square one: having to create an IMDS for your clients.
Hire Someone to Do It for You
Hiring out the IMDS work to an outside contractor has its own set of challenges. There is a cost associated with it, and that increases with the number of parts in each of your component.
You still would need to provide the hired IMDS gun with all the blueprints, technical specs and chemical ingredients of your products. Make sure the contractor is trustworthy before revealing proprietary information. Check the contractor’s credentials and talk to their referrals even if they guarantee what they do. It’s ultimately up to you to ensure the work is performed correctly in a timely manner.
Once a relationship is established with a trustworthy contractor, you’ll have someone to whom you can turn at a moment’s notice for all your IMDS work. In the long run, it may pay off to have a professional with a proven track record at your beck and call.
The IMDS isn’t going away, no matter how cumbersome or unnecessary you may think it is. As the world becomes more environmentally responsible, more and more automakers will be looking for recyclable components for their products.
Decide in advance how you are going to handle IMDS requirements. Don’t wait until you have a rejected shipment. While this may feel like an onerous requirement, you still have the power to control how you will meet those increasingly common demands.
Derrik Snider is a member of the American Society for Quality and the founder of IMDS DATA, which helps companies meet their IMDS requirements. You can contact him at [email protected].