Traceability Plays Key Role in Next-Generation Electrical Architectures

As automated driving and high-voltage electrification transform today’s vehicles, the wires and connectors that support those functions are not just becoming more complex – they are also becoming more safety critical. The wiring harnesses that provide power and data to every electrical sensor and system, from the headlights to the taillights, are becoming integral to the safe operation of the vehicle.

As a result, OEMs are looking for advanced traceability capabilities to ensure the quality of these critical vehicle components. Digital manufacturing techniques can provide that traceability.

Digital manufacturing is the use of technology to gain deep and broad visibility into the state of a manufacturing process in real time. When a shop floor or assembly line is properly instrumented and networked, supervisors can get immediate feedback on shop floor performance. For example, they can receive live bottleneck alerts, operator alerts, and even predictive alerts related to maintenance and quality.

In short, digital manufacturing tells supervisors where to go and what to do – right now – to improve performance. It allows manufacturing to continuously optimize operations and to gain benefits without adding large costs.

Better traceability is an important benefit of digital manufacturing, even – or especially – in a manual process such as assembling wiring harnesses.

How to achieve traceability

Traceability in manufacturing means knowing how a particular part makes its way through the manufacturing process, and knowing exactly which raw materials, which machines and (if appropriate or required) which operators created that part. This way, if there are any concerns with the finished part, someone can review the data to trace the issue to its source and discover the root cause.

A typical approach in digital manufacturing is to tag each component with a unique identifier, and then track the components as they move through the process. The manufacturing execution system (MES) associates those identifiers with the traceability record for that individual part. The MES can act as a digital poka-yoke (a Japanese term meaning “mistake-proofing”) and block the processing of a part if the right steps and testing have not been completed. The MES also has the capability to provide traceability by creating records down to the operator level, and can associate the operator to a particular station.

These capabilities connect what in the past might have been siloed machines and processes, and instead integrates the data from every step into a continuous digital thread.

Bird’s eye view

Today’s digital manufacturing capabilities can go even further, taking advantage of widely available camera technology and cloud storage to create a kind of YouTube for the manufacturing process. When a part arrives at a station, the MES can record the step, triggering a camera positioned above the station to film video and associate the video with that part.

This enables a new level of process auditing for critical work-method steps. For example, an OEM may require the ability to verify that a certain amount of tape is applied to a segment of cabling. However, that segment could be covered up by other components by the end of the process, preventing that verification. The video record allows the tape method to be easily validated. In an extension of digital manufacturing, artificial intelligence could process the videos and verify the component has been assembled correctly.

Aptiv continues to improve traceability through digital manufacturing techniques. As we implement our Lean 2.0 efforts throughout operations, collecting the data – and acting upon it – will be critical to furthering our goal of continuous improvement.