Auto parts suppliers often go through even more rigorous components testing than the big three auto manufacturers. Here’s why that matters.
Every auto manufacturer relies on a constellation of suppliers. Nearly all of these are going to be contractually obligated to deliver the highest and safest quality of each and every component they deliver. That’s good news for drivers, but it’s good news for manufacturers, too. Standards of quality mean you get a good, safe car and manufacturers can take a legal break from the mountains of litigation nearly every one of them is already facing. Just try to imagine the expense of recalling a car from the market once it’s been sold.
So what kinds of non-destructive testing are done – and on what parts of the various cars you’re driving?
Just about every part of every car gets tested – for durability and wearability, for performance and endurance, and for a lot more. These are just some of the parts getting tested and the tests that help designers and engineers to understand how any vehicle is going to perform on down the road.
1) Alloys and Specialty Steels
All the really hard parts of your car go through a battery of tests for hardness. From scraping and impact tests to abrasion tests, hardness tests are performed to understand the breaking point or the ability of a given material to stand up to impacts. Usually that can mean very simple testing to understand a material’s ability to withstand the pressure of impact. While it’s usually been the domain of metallurgists and engineers, hardness tests are increasingly performed by technicians with expertise in plastics and other more advanced materials from carbons and graphite to advanced polymers and coatings.
2) Welds and Joints
Putting a car together means a lot of points where two materials come together, and often they need to be put together. Engineers will tell you that the welds in any car’s frame are often the weakest points. Though not often outsourced, the frame of a car is often just the end of a car’s ultra-sonic journey. All of the parts from external suppliers need to be added to that frame, and often in a concerted effort that can take several days. Just as a manufacturer will use ultra-sonic tests to look at how well the welds are being put together, similarly suppliers have already used the same sorts of tests to look at their own components before they arrive at the assembly line. Together, then, manufacturer and supplier can judge the reliability of the overall vehicle based just on the results of the ultra-sonic testing of many of its parts.
3) Machined Gear Boxes and Casings
Liquid penetrant testing is one of the most common ways of looking at some of the most complex parts of a car – and the housings that protect them. Auto parts suppliers will coat a metal housing or casing with a liquid dye and watch where the dye enters or penetrates the metal. This can provide important information on the overall suitability of the part and if it passes the test, it can still be used. Failures in the metal including openings or weaknesses become instantly obvious and only the parts that pass the test will get passed on to the finished car manufacturer.
4) Coated Surfaces
Of course, there are very few surfaces of metal on a car that aren’t covered with something. From paints and decorative surfaces to weather coatings and surface hardeners, all these surfaces can make an analysis of the underlying structural parts more difficult to evaluate. Car bumpers, to take just one example, need to meet very specific industry guidelines as to their ability to protect from an impact. In such cases, suppliers of bumpers or bumper parts may rely on skilled technicians to run a current through the metal parts – even below a chrome or similar painted surface. Eddy current testing is one of the best non-destructive tests for evaluating defects at or near the surface of metals and importantly, the places where metals come together, such as in threaded bolt holes and in all the places where parts suppliers’ parts get attached to the vehicle. yo
5) Hardened Steels
Case hardened steel, for some of the most important and durable parts of auto-transmissions also come from auto-parts suppliers. In part that’s because they’re difficult to make and they often require specialists to manufacture them – and to test them. Those specialty steel parts need to be not only durable, but reliable, and often suppliers will use magnetic particle inspection to see exactly how the metals mix and come together. Magnetic particle testing makes any anomalies or metallic inconsistencies apparent to the technician. This can be incredibly important in producing large quantities of these components. Relatively inexpensive, running a current through your metal parts and then watching how ferrous metal fragments align themselves in relation to the current is still one of the best ways to “look inside” of an otherwise impenetrable metal part.
Of course, when we think of auto suppliers, we often think of the plastic door handle that’s fallen off and stamped with a word like “Brazil.” These parts get tested too. Though often, plastics are inexpensive enough to be tested through destructive testing methods that simply chew up the parts. But for metals and alloys, auto parts suppliers are as liable for the quality of their output as are the finished car manufacturers themselves. Magna Chek is pleased to work with all of the organizations that regularly monitor and assist the constellation of suppliers who keep the auto industry moving. We’ll be pleased to work with you too.