German automotive specialist, Bosch is starting to see results from its initiative to study functional used field returns.
Begun in 2013, the “active field observation” initiative from Bosch Mobility Solutions is aimed at improving automotive component reliability and meeting the continually tighter warranty requirements being set by the main global car manufacturers.
To achieve this, it’s no longer sufficient to focus on failed components, analysing the cause and the mean time before failure, but to widen the view of the full life service of the parts supplied and how they perform in the highly variable and often hostile environments in which they operate.
New product improvement
Such variability in application environment places demands on development activity to ensure that new products meet functional requirements across a broad spectrum of service conditions. According to Klaus Sekot, the project manager in charge of the Bosch active field observation initiative, the products should function for the car’s entire life, withstanding all the stress and strain that occurs in real driving conditions
Developers at Bosch are able to request used car parts that are still functional to provide engineers with the ability to analyse their condition and supplement their existing knowledge to improve the product so that it best meets the actual requirements.
Replacing old for new
The initiative works by exploiting the global dealer network. After identifying which components are required for analysis, from which types of vehicle they should be taken and from which geographic regions, the Bosch engineers send requests out to dealerships using proprietary software developed by Bosch.
An interactive map shows the dealerships which have agreed to take part in the scheme in the selected region and once they’ve received a request, they contact eligible vehicle owners from their local database and offer a free-of-charge new for old replacement of the part which is of interest.
If the customer agrees to the replacement, the dealership carries out the work and sends the old part back to the engineer at Bosch who requested it. The software collects information about the vehicle including the mileage, the specification of the vehicle, its age and information from the diagnostic computer which provides information about the general overall condition of the car.
Non-warranty problem identification
The analysis of the parts that are received under this programme is very revealing. Bosch was specifically interested in parts from vehicles of various ages, some of which are very old, and not within the warranty period because it is only in this way that specialists can identify certain problems and potential early life failures relating to design.
Two specific factors that are less evident in early life failure analysis are the way drivers behave and the way the environment affects the components. With a large sample of returned parts from different regions of the world, the company is able to obtain a more holistic view of the environmental and behavioural effects on component reliability, an important factor in developing the products of tomorrow that have to meet more stringent quality and reliability criteria imposed by the OEM companies.
Since the programme was launched early in 2013, Bosch engineers have analysed a total of 550 returned parts so far and the company believes that it has already drawn some important conclusions from this analysis that will help it in the development of future generations of the same products.
The information has been so valuable that car manufacturers are now pursuing similar active field observation programmes with other component suppliers, which can also benefit from the Bosch process.
Although proprietary to Bosch, the software is agnostic in its applicability and so those dealerships which are already set up to take part in the programme can use the same software for replacing components from other manufacturers and deliver the same benefits more universally.