“An Indicator for Quality is when the Customer Returns, and not the Product”

How the Audi quality assurance works

Jan Weizenecker am Audi Meisterbock
Blogger Jan Weizenecker checks out the quality assurance at Audi during the TechDay Quality.

Quality is one of the core competencies of Audi. How does the company ensure a consistent high quality? Blogger Jan Weizenecker took a look at the working mode of quality assurance at the TechDay Quality and discovered, what makes it similar to a marriage.

Audi sees its core competence in quality and claims to be market leader in this area. But what exactly is quality? Perhaps a glimpse into another industry can serve as a starting point: For Giorgio Armani quality is something that distinguishes style from fashion.

But what about cars? For most of us, the car is more than just a means of transportation. We identify with “our” brand. The driven model becomes an objectophilic status symbol to which we have the highest requirements, likewise to choosing your better half. But where does quality manifest for drivers and why is the car’s quality so important, whereas we choose to use ceramic knives with plastic handles and buy cheap clothes from fashion chains?

I ask someone who must know the answer to my question: Werner Zimmermann. He is responsible for quality assurance at Audi and was the one that invited me to the TechDay in Ingolstadt. For him, the term quality is a combination of the terms “reliability” and “robustness”. Audi is committed to these basic attributes. However, “high quality” and “appearance” are the icing on the cake. Set under a euphoric mood by his favorite topic, the man with his heart and soul for Audi seems almost philosophical. The concept of quality, along with all its beautiful vocabulary, has been undergoing a transformation for quite some time. After all, networking, autonomous driving and alternative drive systems confront engineers with new tasks.

Blogger Jan Weizenecker beim Audi TechDay Quality
With the help of a photometric measurement cell, two robots with eight-axis kinematics and high-resolution optical sensors (16 megapixels) are able to simultaneously capture the geometry as well as the surfaces of the bodywork. Thus, the digitization of an entire body takes 4 instead of 48 hours.

The new Audi A8 is the flagship for the Audi quality concept

The new Audi A8 presents the most recent example. In order to prepare for the future’s mobility with the flagship, traditional Audi strengths were combined with innovations.

Ultimately, hundreds of vehicle functions were installed. Many of them didn’t exist before. But how does the Bavarian automobile manufacturer manage to maintain its self-imposed goal of quality leadership in the premium segment in times of plethora of not only data, but also functions?

Some 2,800 employees are dedicated to the control and maintenance of quality at Audi. They are involved in the entire product process. The sooner a mistake is detected, the better. This SQUAD unit, like Lionel Messi, does not consider themselves above a one-two pass. They have their hands in the game from the product development process up to after sales services. Today, I will look at five stations of quality assurance: materials engineering, shakedown testing, materials technology, semiconductor laboratory and the master jig.

Quality assurance in five stations

It gets beastly already on the first station. The master jig proves that it is also currently undergoing a transition, just like the vehicle under inspection. Whereas in the past the traditional instrument was placed around the hole profile, the process today is enriched with digital elements. And that provides a decisive advantage. After all, the work on the digital master jig starts 33 months before the start of production, while in the classic master jig the quality assurance can only be carried out nine months before the production start.

The exterior master jig adjusts the outer parts virtually before the start of production with a measuring accuracy of 0.1 millimeters. On the other hand, the interior master jig sees itself confronted by the electrification of the interior with completely new tasks. In earlier days, it used to be about the adjustment of analog buttons.

Meisterbock Messtechnik Autotür
The sheet metal panels of the body’s exterior skin and their attachments as well as the doors are installed on a reference body ten months prior to the start of the series production. Thus they are tested in a local zero-reference environment, meaning an environment without deviations and making early optimizations possible.

Today, it is necessary to adjust the leveling of the virtual cockpit or the new touchpad operating system. Gap composition, material mix and touch gestures continue to be important topics. Incidentally, the vision of the future is a virtual master jig that creates a complete digital simulation.

Innovation through powerful semiconductor technologies

The next department: the semiconductor lab. More than 80 percent of all innovations are based on semiconductors nowadays. Around 8,000 active semiconductor devices and 100 interconnected control units make functions such as automated driving, interlinking cars and the electrified powertrain possible. And from this you can see how the area of ​​once innovative park-beeps, traffic broadcasting and xenon lights has transformed to state-of-the-art OLED lights, live traffic data, semi-autonomous vehicle assistance systems and smartphone connectivity in no time at all. While the lifespan of smartphones is just two years, the technology in the car has to last at least 15 years in a temperature range of -40 to +125 degrees.

The Audi materials engineering unit is jointly responsible for ensuring precisely this durability.Using microscopes, giant computer tomographs and ion guns, surfaces such as metal, glass, ceramic, plastic and leather are tested for their long-lasting durability using a touchpad system.

Analysis and evaluation are put to the acid test in shakedown testing

In addition, the so-called shakedown testing ensures even more qualitative safety. It is initiated about six months before a model enters the market. This department drives 600 pre-production vehicles within 700,000 hours on sheer unimaginable 35 million kilometers (875 laps) in temperatures ranging from -30 to plus 50 degrees Celsius.

However, not only the temperature differences prove to be challenging, but also the different traffic situations or signs in the various countries worldwide. For example, there are different requirements for air conditioning systems in Europe than in the US. And even this area has to deal with the digital transformation. Thus, the current A8 has more than 40 assistance systems that need to be evaluated, tuned and tested in terms of individual needs. The saying “look well before you leap” seems appropriate before marriage. After you have tied the knot, getting a divorce can be quite expensive. To take away this fear from Audi customers at least in terms of mobility, service technology deals with the field of product testing, serving as a link to trade.

Absicherungslauf TechDay Quality
The so-called shakedown testing takes place before a new Audi model receives approval for series production. The pre-series vehicles are inspected on all aspects that could lead to customer complaints later on.

Optimizing the service experience through the CAR ASYST APP

Service technology has developed the instrument for analysis, the CAR ASYST APP, in which the smartphone acts as a diagnostic tool for workshops. The car can be read wirelessly via a Wifi Ethernet adapter. It remains to be seen, if customers will appreciate the transparency of the so-called event memory, or even utilize it in disputes for warranties and insurance benefits in the future. Fortunately, Audi leaves the decision to read the integrated vehicle sensors in the hands of its customers.

How satisfied are the customers with the quality of Audi?

As mentioned earlier, I asked my Instagram friends to give a vote regarding their satisfaction with their Audi. The result: 90 percent are satisfied with the quality. Dieter Zetsche and Harald Krüger refrained. My little survey was probably not scientific enough for them. Nevertheless, the result will please the two, because as it is said, high quality alleviates the pain caused by the high price. For me personally it is easy, the older I get, the more I become like Oscar Wilde. He keeps it simple regarding this topic: he is always satisfied with the best. In this sense, Wilde seems to have been an Audi enthusiast through and through.

The continued success confirms this for Audi. Quality is expressed in the fact that the customer returns, not the product. And so Audi seems well-prepared for the big transformation in the car industry. Because in the future, not the cheaper products will ensure competitiveness – this fight is difficult to win in times of globalization – but the ones that are better.

This article was first posted on the Audi Blog