With 15 years under his belt working for TÜV SÜD, Alex Ming Song has assembled an extensive background in quality control for the automotive sector. Currently the Lead Auditor and Program Manager for TÜV SÜD America, Alex began his tenure with TÜV SÜD in 2001 in Beijing, China, first as an automotive auditor and then as a product and regional P&L manager.
Currently, Alex is working to help automotive companies comply with the evolving automotive sector specific standard for quality management system- IATF 16949:2016.
Alex's background and transition to the US
After obtaining a bachelor's degree in material science and metal fabrication, Alex started his career in the automotive business since 2001 in China. In 2005, he was placed in charge of the North Region of China, and grew his team to include more than 30 members.
During this time, Alex received certifications for VDA 6.1 and QS 9000. The VDA 6.1 certification ensured the integrity of automotive products and processes, including recognition of product safety, employee satisfaction, and quality cost structure. QS 9000 certification was a company level certification for the automotive industry based on quality system requirements. Previous ISO/TS 16949 has since replaced both of these standards.
Since 2009, he's been certified for the International Railway Industry Standard (IRIS), and he was responsible for the whole Chinese IRIS, in terms of both business and technical elements.
Before being offered his current role, the previous product manager at TÜV SÜD had resigned and the position was left vacant for some time. After searching locally for a person, the previous VP of TÜV SÜD North America talked with Alex's boss in China and started the discussion about whether they needed this international support. They thought about the possibility of transferring the position from an experienced person in China, which brought Alex to the U.S.
The answer was clear: TÜV SÜD needed someone in this position with the capacity and expertise to provide international support, so they tapped Alex for the role.
Now he's responsible for dedicated product management, and no longer in charge of personnel management. In this role, Alex has been spearheading TÜV SÜD's response to the industry's transition to IATF 16949.
What IATF 16949 means for the automotive industry
The original ISO/TS standard has been the industry standard since 1999, and has evolved with several revisions since then.
In October 2016, the International Automotive Task Force published an updated version of the standard defining the requirements of a quality management system for organizations in the automotive industry.
The new standard aims to support the entire automotive industry supply chain. From the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) to the Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, and even down to the very basic supply chain components, IATF 16949 will make a major impact on all companies involved in automotive manufacturing.
"They use this standard as a common language to communicate to the upper level of the supply chain," Alex explained. "It is working very well at the moment."
The revisions are quite unique - while the ISO/TS originally created the standard, the new version came down from the IATF, but will include the ISO requirements.
In Alex's view, some of the key points of the IATF standard involve new and enhanced or strengthened factors of this requirement to ISO/TS revisions. The four main enhancements or new elements that Alex thinks will have the greatest impact include:
Risk analysis - Although risk analysis has always played an important role in this standard, the revised version puts risk mitigation at center stage, adding a number of specific risk-related requirements to make business safer.
Product safety - This is a brand new element in the IATF standard that now requires all products to perform according to their designed or intended purpose without causing any damage or harm to the end user.
Embedded software element - As we move toward a more drive-by-wire world, the new standard references embedded software components of automobiles for product validation, troubleshooting issues and warranty requirements.
Temporary change of process controls - This will impact the operations for the workflow/workshop in the organization, and it makes sense to speak to the standard requirements.
The revision also incorporates new methodologies for improving quality assurance, including Design for Six Sigma and the Fault Tree Analysis. These were not mentioned or integrated in previous revisions of this standard.
How involved is the process to move to the new standards?
Companies that are certified by ISO/TS need to be covered by IATF by September 14, 2018.
From a product safety and software perspective, the new standard introduces many new tasks to adequately prepare for the upgrade. Take Product Safety, for example: Managers need to start inside the company to distinguish what products have characteristics that might potentially be impacted, and what safety issues could be potentially caused by this product functionality.
From an external perspective, companies need to introduce the new processes and the methods to identify when other risks may arise, as well as how to manage those risks.
The new revisions mean a lot of jobs for companies as they prepare.
TÜV SÜD manages tracking the timeline for each of the companies, including when each due date of the certification is required. There are modules TÜV SÜD offers that address the new IATF standards in detail.
"Each of the auditors should go through all the modules in the designated IATF ADP system," Alex said. "This ensures all auditors have operating knowledge of the revised standards and new rules."
Looking ahead to the future of the automotive industry
While it's difficult to foresee the precise future regarding automotive advancements, Alex is sure that the evolution of the standard allows the industry to better align with current technologies and trends.
For instance, the previous standard did not address the software component, but now it is clear that manufacturers need to validate how they can control the software. From this positive change, it will help manufacturers and companies in the supply chain reduce risk and maintain quality.
"I do believe it will support the whole industry," Alex noted, "leading the whole supply chain to have tighter and better product quality, reliability and safety."