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“In the automotive sector, risk assessment is indispensable”

Prototypical for the industry: OKE Automotive and DIETZ Consultants develop an FMEA method description according to VDA & AIAG.

As a globally active developer of components and sophisticated technical parts for the automotive industry, aviation and public transit, OKE Automotive relies on seamless quality management that includes risk assessment. Recently, a major deviation in the certification audit presented the company with urgent challenges. Together with DIETZ Consultants, OKE set itself the goal of systematically remedying this deviation. For this purpose, a complex Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) method description was developed according to the new VDA & AIAG standard, which has been valid throughout the world since 2019. The aim here was to systematically uncover possible sources of error. “With its result, the project is indeed prototypical for the industry,” explains FMEA moderator Winfried Dietz. As part of his coaching, he focused on the approach of capacity building at many points in the process as an important step toward a solution.  

At its headquarters in Hörstel, North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the numerous tasks that OKE undertakes is the design and manufacture of plastic profiles as a solution for fastening seat covers to metal structures. “In the subsequent series production, faulty production can quickly have a major impact,” explains Henrike Brüning, Quality Management Representative at OKE Automotive. “A thorough risk assessment including FMEA is therefore downright indispensable in the automotive industry.” Given that major topics such as artificial intelligence and electromobility will pose new and exciting challenges for automobile manufacturers and suppliers around the world in the coming years, its significance is certainly on the rise.

But first of all, OKE Automotive had to overcome a current hurdle and systematically remedy a major deviation in the certification audit. For this purpose, the company joined forces with DIETZ Consultants to develop a tailor-made FMEA method description for its processes. “For us, the work served as an exciting task that was dear to our heart,” says Winfried Dietz, Managing Director of DIETZ Consultants. Dietz has been working with OKE for years as an expert in Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) and risk management, and knows the growing company from his home region very well.

From the first workshop to the FMEA work phase

Winfried Dietz already laid the foundation for the cooperation between OKE and DIETZ Consultants back in 2014 when he held an internal workshop on FMEA and risk management at the OKE site.  “The first contact at that time came about through a common partner from the development of FMEA tools and intelligent software solutions,” he recalls. An initial request for support arose because a large automotive supplier from their region was urgently looking for a FMEA expert in the automotive sector. Soon thereafter, he contacted OKE; an initial meeting was then held. Since then, the last five-plus years have seen both companies successfully working together in the field of FMEA development and training. And the current project is no different.

“The starting point for the start of the latest project was a major deviation in the certification audit. In the worst case, this could have led to our certificate not being issued,” explains Jonas Frixen, FMEA representative at OKE Automotive. In order to ensure delivery capacity, optimize the processes, and be able to sustainably avoid deviations, the OKE team decided to commence the joint work phase with DIETZ Consultants. A special assignment came in the form of using internal audits and process descriptions to provide technical support for further developing the certifiable QM systems for the automotive sector. As new sites had to be integrated into the certification process, everyone involved worked under great time pressure. Many of the specialists involved from all areas of the company developed the FMEA process in parallel to the already very busy day-to-day work taking place in a rapidly growing company. In this environment, Dietz specifically chose to go the way of consulting with a strong degree of coaching as well as targeted guidance through capacity building.

Joining forces with OKE to perform structural work in the company

Initially, the responsibilities and structures related to FMEA were not yet sufficiently in place. “Together with OKE, we therefore also carried out structural work in the company. After all, the post-implementation benefits of an FMEA can only be sustained in the long term if it is constantly reviewed and further developed if necessary,” explains Dietz. Besides setting up clear and effective FMEA structures, the greatest challenge was to develop an FMEA that meets the certification requirements. It was also important to develop these in accordance with the specifications in the globally uniform method description of the AIAG/VDA manual while simultaneously creating internal interfaces. “We worked together very closely over a period of six months and created the FMEA structure during this time,” explains Frixen. “DIETZ Consultants then regularly supported us through training courses, phone calls, and by email in order to consolidate the knowledge that had been gained — and to be able to apply it sustainably.” The result was a lively FMEA process that, in addition to Winfried Dietz and his team, saw OKE employees from almost all areas of the company involved in development, planning, production, management, and more.

FMEA developed in a functioning interdisciplinary team

“This was particularly important to us because an FMEA should always be developed in an interdisciplinary team and thus take into account the findings of all involved areas of the company,” says Dietz, who is also emphasizing OKE’s corporate culture in this context. There was a very pleasant and fair cooperation across all hierarchies, and this was also reflected in the close collaboration during the entire FMEA process. A total of 15 employees were trained by means of intensive method training, including workshops. In addition to training a moderator, expert colleagues brought their knowledge of the individual processes from various departments into the process. At the same time, the company created the position of an FMEA officer. In addition to the basic FMEA knowledge conveyed by Dietz, moderation techniques, maturity assessment, and many other details of working with FMEA were shown over time. Repeated participation in the international FMEA forum rounded out the comprehensive FMEA training measures.  “I got to know OKE as a company with a strong corporate culture and a distinct focus on teamwork,” says FMEA expert Dietz. The company offers its employees various sports-related opportunities and even has its own day care center — all things that contribute to employee satisfaction and commitment. “This was evident not only in the conversations during the breaks, but also in working together!”

From breakthrough to established FMEA structure

“The moment we knew that we were on the right track was when we were successfully recertified — the auditor even gave us special praise,” says a happy Frixen. “Furthermore, despite the time pressure involved, the implementation of the FMEA was extremely efficient and effective.” In the meantime, the FMEA structure has been established and is used throughout the company. Coordination with the specific requirements of VDA/AIAG harmonization is also working perfectly and offers elementary advantages in terms of global transferability: “The uniform FMEA guideline, jointly developed by the German and US industry associations VDA and AIAG, is particularly useful for a globally active consortium such as OKE Group,” explains Dietz. For the newly created process FMEA, the structures resulted from the technology-related sequence of operations for the respective product manufacturing process steps. For the Design FMEA, however, the structure follows the system definition and boundaries of the analyzed product.

In the future, OKE Automotive wants to establish a holistic “Lesson-Learned-System” in which the FMEA is integrated. “We also aim to make the impact analysis available throughout the Group. As the state of the art is constantly changing, FMEA must also continue to develop,” states Quality Management Representative Henrike Brüning. It is clear that such processes also require a rethink among employees. On the one hand, this is because of the good and systematic approach; on the other, due to the pressure that the necessary certification brought with it in this case, acceptance at OKE was high right from the start.

Continuous development and adaptation of FMEA

A Failure Mode and Effects Analysis, or impact analysis for short, is not necessarily a project that comes to a final conclusion. After all, a change in the production process, new findings, or new technical or conceptual developments can always mean that the FMEA which was tailored at the outset suddenly has to be adapted to the new requirements at one point or another — and further developed according to the latest findings. “If you look at the path we have taken together with DIETZ Consultants in building up FMEA competence in our company, it really is impressive,” says Brüning of the collaboration. “In order to be able to maintain the FMEA, training responsible individuals within the company was very important. Moreover, this is the only way to ensure group-wide use.” With the competence it has built up, OKE now intends to continuously work on further developing and adapting the FMEA. “The access to the extensive expertise and the worldwide network of professionals is especially helpful to us.”

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