The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) has launched a simple, time-efficient software tool to help suppliers comply with their customer’s quality requirements. While valuable to any automotive company, the AIAG Core Tools Support™ CTS) software is especially designed for parts manufacturers Tier 2 and smaller.
"The development of this software was unlike any I have worked on before,” says John M. Cachat, AIAG project manager, a 30-year software development veteran. “Where the emphasis is usually on getting to market quickly in the software world, AIAG’s approach was to take things slowly and make certain that the voice of the customer was heard. AIAG spent a full year just listening before a line of code was even written.”
In AIAG’s original voice of the customer survey, 85 percent of suppliers confirmed that they are using spreadsheets to comply with purchase order requirements connected to the Automotive Quality Core Tools, which are considered by the industry as the building blocks of an effective quality management system. The Core Tools include Advanced Product Quality Planning & Control Plan (APQP), Production Part Approval Process (PPAP), Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), Statistical Process Control (SPC), and Measurement System Analysis (MSA).
“Suppliers were using spreadsheets because they are simple, but they recognized that it is very easy to accidentally delete important information, there is no report generation, and changes made in one area of the spreadsheet aren’t always made in other sheets,” says Cachat. “It was also incredibly surprising how many people are not really proficient with spreadsheets. The message was that the lower tier suppliers needed something better than spreadsheets, but not that much better. If we made it too complicated, they would not use it.”
AIAG put together a team of industry volunteers to create a software tool that retains the ease of use and flexibility of a spreadsheet, but offers added features like security, a live and virtual Help Desk, automatic updates, a modular design with advanced functions, and searchability across database and attachments.
“This team of volunteers, who had worked with old Core Tools spreadsheets and CD ROM for years, had great ideas on what to do — and more importantly — what not to do,” says Cachat.
The result of their work — AIAG’s next-generation CTS forms document authoring tool — represents a significant investment in the global automotive supply chain and delivers a strong, cloud-based SaaS system to help smaller companies manage AIAG Core Tools activities in a global automotive project environment. The tool is hosted in Microsoft Azure, known for its cybersecure environment, and offers hosting centers around the world including China, Korea, Canada, and Mexico. The initial launch is in English, but several languages will be supported in the application.
“OEM and Tier 1 suppliers with more complex products and processes often favor a more robust enterprise software, and we have many excellent companies among the AIAG membership that supply such products,” Cachat says. “This new tool will not compete with enterprise software because it is built on meeting the simpler needs of the lower-tier suppliers. And, of course, we are discussing interoperability and electronic transfer of the information across the entire supply chain.”
“The AIAG Core Tools Software is an affordable solution that incorporates feedback from the user and is specifically designed to increase the efficiency and accuracy of producing spreadsheet-based forms during the production part approval process,” says David Gehart, quality manager of Spring Design & Mfg., Inc., and a member of the AIAG volunteer committee that designed the system. “It enables us to incorporate lessons learned and customer-specific requirements into all our projects quickly and easily, all while providing reports and analysis not previously available.”
And what does the tool mean to automakers and Tier 1 suppliers? “It means our customers are now receiving error-free documents that always meet their customer-specific requirements,” says Gehart.