Keeping tabs on the quality
Daimler has introduced a new digital tool called Q.Dome to manage quality in the delivery of its finished vehicles from plant to dealership. Dr Monika Schmickler, head of strategy, purchasing and quality for Worldwide Transport Logistics at the carmaker, explains how it has improved the process. Marcus Williams reports
Daimler has been increasing the application of digital technology to all parts of its production and logistics network over the past couple of years. At the beginning of 2020 the Mercedes-Benz Cars division launched a trial using blockchain technology to improve transparency on how much CO2 was being emitted in the transport of source materials.
In September, trucks carrying inbound parts to the Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicle plant in Wörth, Germany started sending out automated arrival announcements through a new IT system set up by parent company Daimler and software development partners Inform and Fleetboard Logistics.
In the aftermarket, meanwhile, the carmaker announced in August that digital technology was being used to automate processes at the Mercedes-Benz global parts logistics centre in Germersheim. Machine learning and cloud computing are being used there to help with demand planning for the high volume of parts.
For the last few months the carmaker has also been applying a digital tool called Q.Dome to manage quality in the delivery of its finished vehicles from plant to dealership, following a project started in 2019.
Where, why and who
Given Daimler’s global distribution network, keeping tabs on where and when damage occurs is no easy feat. Traditionally this is recorded manually by the company’s outbound transport providers and terminal operators, who add details, including digital images of the vehicles at different stages in the delivery process, to their bill of loading. However, the manual process of collecting information on damage – where and when it happens, why it happens and who is responsible – often means it is difficult to extract the detail and take mitigating action.
To improve visibility on damage Daimler looked to a digital app that provided three important things: a mobile damage detection tool and liability notice; a proper and sound base for repair cost reimbursement; and accurate reporting and measurement to better mitigate future damage.
“It is not only a system to ensure a worldwide product quality for our vehicles in distribution, and to minimise protection and repair, we are also looking at our dealers to increase their satisfaction,” explains Dr Monika Schmickler, head of strategy, purchasing and quality for Worldwide Transport Logistics at Daimler.
Daimler’s priority is to get its cars to the dealers in mint condition and at the same time reduce the lead time by removing the need for repairs. Alongside this the carmaker is keen to create an awareness for quality among its transport and logistics partners.
Standardising processes and making them paperless is also a key priority for the new system, says Schmickler. Daimler was keen to ditch damage documentation and claim management forms at the same time that it improved visibility on damage, all part of a drive for greater administrative efficiency.
From an operational standpoint Daimler’s goal was to improve and balance cost for damage repair and protection, and to more accurately allocate resources to the root cause of a particular quality issue.
“That has shown to be profitable, for example, to have data at hand enables you to customise product protection, going away from a full body cover, for example, to a partial cover,” Schmickler explains. “That is a sustainable issue at the end of the day – if you only need to cover a part of the car rather than the whole.”
Data like that is gathered through the combination of a mobile and web app, which combines information on vehicle damage with the vehicle identification number [vin] and feeds it into a database. That information has grown into data lake and Daimler is using analytics tools to use the most useful information to prevent damage.
The company has a dedicated team helping to manage the data, which includes eliminating duplications and mistakes to keep the information clean.
“[The data] is being transmitted directly to the damage adjuster and also to the freight forwarders,” says Schmickler. “In the process, they are being asked to comment on the damage, which also gives us insight into where we can repair the process through training or adapting our operations manual – the bible for our logistics providers.”
According to Schmickler, the project has resulted in a tool that provides a more transparent outbound supply chain, reduces claims processing costs and increases the success rate for recourse claims.
At this autumn’s Automotive Logistics and Supply Chain Live conference, Dr Schmickler told Christopher Ludwig, editor-in-chief of Automotive Logistics, more about the development of the Q.Dome tool. Below are excerpts edited for clarity
Market launches for new vehicles are the real trial for quality control, as with the fully electric Vision EQS
Christopher Ludwig (CL): Regarding the implementation, how widely has it been rolled out globally and what are some of the success factors in that roll out?
Dr Monika Schmickler (MS): We rolled it out in Europe first, starting in Germany, our biggest market in Europe [and] involved the stakeholders at an early stage in the project. We had roundtables with the logistics providers and dealers.
Parallel to the HI/IT programming of the app and the solution, we also prepared training documentation, including films and roadshows and provided case studies to our top performing LSPs. It was very useful to show our partners and get feedback from them. They provided some good ideas, which we also implemented. So training was one of the successful factors, and also the involvement of the stakeholder.
But, as with every system, the other important success factor is that we have the support of our users. When you roll out a new system you will find bugs but with new users coming on board and they had questions both simple and intricate, so the user model worked well.
CL: Can you give us a sense of the key processes that were developed and automated along the way?
MS: The biggest gain is that we replaced paper with digital process and solutions, and the fact that we have real-time detection and no backlog. It is about getting speed into the process, reducing cost and getting transparency A-Z in the supply chain, from the plant to the dealer, and working with this data.
I know that AI and IoT are buzzwords now but in this case it has shown to be profitable to have this data at hand and to customise product protection. Daimler makes big cars and sometimes the transport equipment has its limits and there are challenges. Therefore, it is important to have a look at what damage occurs where and whether it is something that we can repair at our place or whether it is an issue of training, or down to the use of different equipment. It is a multifaceted issue and that makes is complicated. But now I have a broader base of data from which I can extract what I need, it is really fun to work with.
When we have market launches before you start your transport activity with a new car, the real trial is with the first cars that go to the dealerships. They are the ones that are being shown to the customer. These cars must arrive in perfect shape. Extracting information from this process and applying the information to the [main volume shipments] was very valuable.
CL: When we talk about increasing visibility in outbound supply we look at telematics and the connected car aspect. Do you see scope for that here, perhaps in combination with Q.Dome?
MS: For sure. Q.Dome is only a part of a digitised supply chain for finished vehicles. My colleagues in other departments work on the digitisation of the whole process with the aspect of track and trace. I was concentrating on the quality issue.
It can also be combined with another innovation that we had in one of our plants in the US – namely a digital vehicle scanner. Here we had a digital assessment of the car before it started its outbound journey from the plant to the dealer. There we were able to combine the data from both. There is a lot of potential.
CL: Do you repair vehicles prior to arrival at the dealer or is the goal to track the damage and allow the dealer to make the repair?
MS: Both. It depends on what kind of damage. The target is that the customer gets the perfect car and gets it on the date promised. We try to avoid repairs but sometimes accidents happen or there are force majeure situations. When it comes to handling I am happy that we have good partners with well-trained drivers who do a good job. But during transportation in the respective modes, if necessary, we also improve the situation.
CL: Do the dealers use the same system to track the damages or is it more for Daimler?
MS: We haven’t rolled out Q.Dome in every quarter of the world where Mercedes cars are being delivered. We started in Europe and have gone overseas to our own organisations. Now step-by-step we are trying to involve the dealers.
We have adapted a system that comes from a partner to our needs but we have also identified a couple of markets that already have their own systems. The challenge was to incorporate those systems or have the interface across them to allow a flow of data and not to lose it because of the different systems.
CL: What would be some key lessons that you would take from this project implementation and apply to other digitalisation projects?
MS: I can concentrate on three. The first is that we had a screening for the then market systems and tried to choose the best and are very happy with the result. Secondly it is important to set up a good project team with agile working methods involving the necessary stakeholders. Thirdly you need to take into consideration that, although it is a digitalisation project, it is about people and creating a system which is used by people in the field. We get feedback from the users into the system and update.
Watch the full presentation and discussion of Q Dome, which took place at ALSC Live in September
Having this long transportation chain in our worldwide system, it was a major challenge for us as a car manufacturer (as it is for every one) to stop and see where the damage occurs and to deal with it
Dr Monica Schmickler, Daimler
It is not only a system to ensure a worldwide product quality for our vehicles in distribution, and to minimise protection and repair, we are also looking at our dealers to increase their satisfaction
Dr Monica Schmickler, Daimler
Using big data helps us get information for the future to help mitigate damages on our new vehicles. It is being transmitted directly to the damage adjuster and to the freight forwarders
Dr Monica Schmickler, Daimler