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OM in the News: Takata Lacks Processes for Tackling Air-Bag Defects

February 9, 2016
The panel’s report found Takata lacked its own program for spotting defects in air bags once they’re installed in vehicles

The panel’s report found Takata lacked its own program for spotting defects in air bags once they’re installed in vehicles

Takata Corp., the supplier behind defective air bags in millions of recalled vehicles, lacks clear processes for tackling potential safety defects and needs improved manufacturing methods, an independent panel found. Takata employees tasked with raising safety concerns also don’t have well-defined roles and rely on reports from auto makers about quality problems instead of ferreting out problems themselves. In addition, Takata often has employees load air-bag-inflater propellants by hand and lacks enough automated manufacturing processes that can better ensure consistent products, the report found.

Takata’s CEO said the company planned to implement all of the panel’s recommendations. “Takata’s products play a critical role in protecting the driving public, and we understand that the quality of our operations needs to be beyond question,” he said. Car companies are recalling more than 24 million vehicles in the U.S. equipped with the air bags, which can explode and spray shrapnel.

Regulators also cited Takata for misleading and inaccurate testing reports.  “I don’t think they lived it and breathed it the way other people do,” noted the report’s author in The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 2, 2016). The report outlined a series of recommendations to improve Takata’s approach to quality, and suggested employees working on quality be able to not only intervene in manufacturing, but stop product designs when raising concerns.

The report concluded: (1) Testing data must be recorded and reported accurately; (2) Takata should develop its own standards for air-bag-inflater testing as opposed to relying on specifications from auto makers, regulators and others; (3) employees should be paid based on how the address quality issues to incentivize reporting concerns; and (4) Takata should create a dedicated quality team to implement the recommendations.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What were the weaknesses in Takata’s quality program?
  2. What tools in Chapter 6 could the firm employ?
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