While OEMs spend significant amounts of money on protective products, the most important measure that can be taken is training staff and developing careful processes for handling and inspecting vehicles. Carmakers and providers reveals their most useful adjustments

Preventing vehicle damage from factory to dealer requires quality control measures, a discipline that is usually an OEM’s best line of defence against damage. And while the products and infrastructure involved in moving vehicles is important – such as wraps and covering, well designed equipment and vehicle processing centres – there is no substitute for collecting and analysing the right data, and for working together with partners to find the sources of damage. To that end, protection products are simply a supplement.

For example, at Volkswagen Mexico one of the main challenges is preventing vandalism in transit, which occurs particularly around Mexico City, according to Luis Carlos Olivares, a logistics manager with the company. VW Mexico stays in contact with local government institutions and transport organisations to identify and avoid the routes that pose higher risks, and then take action to change them. VW now uses a new highway that runs north from its plant in Puebla bypassing Mexico City. Along with other improvements, routing changes have helped to increase VW Mexico’s damage-free rate to 99.75%, according to Olivares.

Chock full of vehicle sizes
For Union Pacific Railroad, the biggest challenge is the evolution of car designs, according to Dave Wheeler, responsible for damage prevention. The original devices used to secure vehicles were block chocks – material placed on the outside of tyres to hold the vehicle in place – which were designed for vehicles less than 4,500 pounds (2,045 kilos). Today, Union Pacific must be versatile enough to handle vehicle variations from pickups weighing 8,000 pounds to lighter hybrids with low ground effects. Dan Meyers, a manager at BNSF Railway, says that vehicles with lower ground effects tend to be damaged more during loading. Leland Chang, a supervisor for quality and claims in North America at Ford, says “the challenge is getting rail carriers to repair bad order rails or invest in the next generation of equipment to meet demand for light, lower profile vehicles.” Russ Bryan, another manager at BNSF, says that with lower cars, the wheel envelope continues to shrink and the wheel continues to grow, so one runs out of room to fit the securing device. BNSF is currently testing new chocks.

To adapt to the increased size of current trucks and SUVs, Union Pacific is developing supplemental devices to help fasten and protect vehicles in transit that would be placed either on the inside of the tyre or between the front of the tyre and the original chock. These devices can hold all sizes of vehicles on a bi-level railcar, according to Wheeler, from a Ford F-550 to a Honda Fit/Jazz. Union Pacific is currently using block chocks from Holden America and auxiliary vehicle restraints from Zeftek.

Union Pacific began using these devices two years ago on its bilevel, which are now 85% equipped, and multilevel auto racks, according to Wheeler. Industry-wide in the US, these supplemental devices have reduced the number of damaged vehicles by 25% in the past year.

Protect only where it counts
Wheeler says that since the value of vehicles has increased, protective coverings on the exposed panels that are susceptible to damage have become more significant. But with costs an issue, companies are using more specific coverings. Ford has tended away from wrap-guard for units produced and transported to destinations in North America and is moving toward better protection aids such as foam blocks and dooredge guards, according to Chang.

BNSF Railway protects the vehicle sections that are most likely to be damaged. It uses foam on the front bumper, rear bumper, and the left front door, according to Bryan. Ford meanwhile has increased its use of protection on the bumper section. “We used to use wrapguard, but it could not prevent impact damage. Railcars are an even tighter fit than road haulers, so the foam blocks would prevent nicks,” says Chang. Union Pacific has also redesigned its railcars to increase space and enable easier access to vehicles. Wheeler adds that better door edge protection within the railcars reduces the potential for metal-on-metal contact that can scratch a car’s doors. Ford has invested in the paint that it uses on vehicles to be more durable and scratch resistant. Wheeler says that for Union Pacific, protective coatings within the railcar reduce the potential for small scratches and chips that can occur when handling a vehicle in tight quarters.

For Honda Motor Europe the use of protective coverings depends on where the vehicles are going. Peter Squires, a quality and insurance manager at Honda, says that emerging markets are a challenge because of a limited infrastructure and supply base. In particular, he cites the challenges of working with Russian truckers, who have “a different attitude”. Although protective coverings are an important tool in reducing damage, the particular system must add value to the shipping process. Bryan says that cushioning has more benefit than covering.

Reducing the amount of handling, such as shipping by unit train, however, remains one of the best ways to reduce damage. BNSF Railway reports a damage-free rate of 99.8%.

Using inspection to identify damage sources
Bryan says that the challenge is trying to track where and why vehicle damage occurs. To that end, real-time information from inspection helps determine the cause of damage. At logistics service provider Autologic, based in the UK, Sarah Hirst says that the company wants to reduce damage costs by taking a more rigid approach to damage identification. “We want to ensure that all staff is damage audited, and is also in a position to report issues to manufacturers,” says Hirst. There are three important elements in its compliance department: quality, claims handling, and driver training. Claims handling reports trends and issues to either quality or driver training, which then works to resolve issues quickly. Hirst says that Autologic is following 100% load-lane inspection of vehicles at all logistics sites prior to loading. “This process assists the driver, which in turn provides time and cost savings. It has also enabled Autologic to identify the true cause of damage,” says Hirst.

At BMW, head of vehicle logistics Mathias Wellbrock says that damage prevention needs to start early. BMW is already involved in the transporter development process and is in close contact with its carriers for developing new equipment. “Damage prevention in the transport process itself is the last measure taken,” he says, “and even then we look into the processes and not into protecting the vehicles. We need to create a clear measurement of damage to attack the right roots of the damage. Once the damage numbers are transparent for all involved parties, we would eventually drop all surveys, which we consider as waste in the process.”

With or without surveys, damage must be measured. In August Ford, in partnership with Vascor, started using an electronic (EDI/Web-Based) transport claims process. “We decided to move away from our previous claims provider due to its method of handling manual paperwork,” says Chang. The change improved the process for both Ford and its transport partners, as carriers received more real-time claims data. Chang estimates that Ford achieves at least a one-month reduction in the handling process compared to manual claims. “Quicker data interchange can assist the carrier in identifying repetitive damage so that they can determine early warnings of failure in their transportation process,” he says.

Design the terminal right
“We need to figure out where damage can occur and then take steps to eliminate it,” says Jim Triplett, a senior vice president at auto processor Amports. The company’s damage prevention objectives fall into two categories. One is facility monitoring, which requires insight on directional flow as well as traffic management features such as radar-activated speed indicators. Another important factor is designing facilities to meet the requirements of today’s vehicle shapes and sizes. “We design the facility to handle various vehicles and then the new model comes out and we need to modify the [ramp] angle for loading or provide greater space above it,” says Triplett. In redesigning its yards, Amports reroutes vehicles to prevent damage, including changes to lot markings, space revisions, and visual aids showing the correct way to do a procedure. Triplett says that whereas facility rerouting is a constant, Amports has focused its changes more on its staff training, in which it aims to create a culture of damage elimination. In the past year, Amports has examined how it trains its employees and how it configures its handling yards.

The planning involves working with the carmakers to obtain new model configurations. As a means of increasing space between cars in its yards, Amports needed to widen each stall by six inches. It also adjusted the directional flow in its facilities and provided signage geared toward damage elimination. Triplett says that in Mexico, from mid-2008 to mid-2009, Amports reduced damage by half, where it is now .012% and for the company overall it is under 0.3%.

Looking to Asia as a guide
Renault’s approach to quality management is globally consistent. Its control plan includes auditing suppliers and storage centres and checking for damage in the vehicle flow. “We make sure that suppliers have the capacity to repair vehicles to our quality standard. Our policy is to repair any damage before the vehicle arrives at the dealer. Typically, we repair vehicles before handing them to the next carrier, but repair options are not always available,” says Jean-François Salles, Renault’s director of supply chain quality. At minimum, repairs would take place at the final transit centre before delivery. These facilities are located between 100- 300km (60-180 miles) from the dealers.

Through its joint venture, Renault Samsung, Renault holds the vehicle distribution system in Japan and Korea as benchmarks for damage control, where it considers processes in these markets to be among the best in the world. However, Salles acknowledges that vehicle distribution in Korea is easier than in Europe because cars move directly from the plant to the dealer, whereas in Europe Renault serves many countries using several transport modes. In Europe, Renault is particularly concerned with reducing rail transport damage, which is higher than on other modes, although it also needs to reduce damage from trucking.

A few years ago, Renault established quality control processes for vehicle flow planning and transfer responsibilities. Damage perceived by the network dealers between 2004 and 2008 was cut by 75%. Worldwide, the damage-free rate is now 99.5%, according to Salles.

A group effort
BMW aims to maintain transparency across the suply chain to standardise its survey processes worldwide. Wellbrock reports that BMW has developed a transport quality control tool that it is currently rolling out throughout it markets and its carrier base. All partners along the distribution chain must report quality issues in this IT system by using a standardised damage code. Based on this data, BMW informs the parties that are responsible immediately about any quality issues. Wellbrock says that BMW is in much closer contact with all involved parties starting at the end of its production lines. It has implemented quality control circles with plant quality, sales quality, research and development, as well as distribution staff. Likewise, Ford’s emphasis on quality control has helped to increase its damage-free rate to 99.8% for transport providers, reveals Chang. Ford uses monthly scorecard meetings with its haulaway carriers to review operational and damage-free performances.

As part of its carrier monitoring process, Ford relies on its lead logistics provider UPS Automotive Industry Solutions to manage its network and act as its eyes and ears. Participation in organisations such as the Automotive Industry Logistics Steering Committee (AILSC) is also important to provide a customer voice to the car transport industries. Another committee is the rail Vehicle Equipment Quality (VEQ) task force. Among VEQ’s objectives is to establish universal railcar requirements to achieve damage-free delivery performance. These objectives include establishing requirements for a vehicle securement system and door-edge protection requirements, among others.

With VEQ and AILSC, Ford is working on the next generations of security chocks. In the area of facilities and operations, VEQ’s objectives include identifying high damage corridors, identifying root causes for damage and developing corrective actions.

On the road carrier side, the Vehicle Highway Transport Task Force’s objectives include performing joint audits of transporter operations and evaluating transporter performance. Chang says that one of the problems with road carriers is that the supply of soft tie-downs would not meet demand until 2015 thanks to the utilisation life of chain equipment already in the market. As well as participating in these and other associations, Ford also uses claims filed by dealers to investigate early trends in quality issues and repetitive damages trends. Because of its changes, Ford’s transport damage-free percentage has improved by 24% in 2009 compared to 2007. Ford’s in-transit damage claims per unit has improved by 30%.