Quality is likely to suffer when the U.S. auto industry restarts and reconfigures assembly lines to conform with new rules for disinfecting and social distancing, panelists at the Society of Automotive Analysts’ online State of Automotive Recalls Summit say.
“Do I want to buy the first vehicle off the line after the restart? I think it’s going to be rough, for all the reasons we touched on,” says attorney Dan Sharkey, whose Birmingham, MI, law firm often defends auto suppliers from claims related to recalls and quality complaints.
The previous speaker, Dave Prager of Drishti Technologies of Mountain View, CA, links the COVID-19 pandemic to a “looming quality crisis” because it will disrupt “every process” in assembly plants.
“We’re going to see massive disruptions of operations, which will trickle into quality,” Prager says. He is head of marketing and business development. Drishti uses video and data to digitize, analyze and improve manufacturing processes, with an emphasis on tasks performed by line workers.
Prager says social distancing upends basic assumptions of traditional assembly lines. “Manufacturing was designed for the last 100 years, optimized around real estate” — that is, squeezing the maximum value out of a given number of square feet, he says.
But by definition, social distancing means spreading employees out over more room than they normally need, not just on the assembly line but everywhere, including entering and leaving work.
“That’s going to change every process in the plant: shift change; the balance between the time you spend working vs. the time you spend cleaning; wearing new PPEs (personal protective equipment), you might not have the dexterity you used to have,” Prager says. On top of that, higher turnover among equipment operators is more likely, Prager says.
“We’re going to see many more escaped defects.”
In the short term, vehicle defects might be more difficult to detect because drivers adhering to stay-at-home guidelines will be driving less. Drivers practicing social distancing also may be reluctant to take their vehicles to dealerships for recall repairs, although more dealers are offering mobile repairs, panelists say.