safety recalls

  • Aug. 13, 2014
  • Marcel Romijn

A hot-topic in the automotive industry in the last 5 to 10 years has been the phenomenon of safety recalls. Car manufacturers ask their customers to come back with their cars for repairs or modifications. In many cases it concerns design flaws that could impact safety. Many examples exist even from decades ago (e.g. Ford Pinto fire risk) however it really became a hot-topic after the Toyota recalls on “uncontrolled sudden acceleration”. Right now hot in the news are recalls to a wide range of car manufacturers for approximately 10 years old airbags from supplier Takata and the massive recalls by General Motors related to ignition switches. We asked BRACE Automotive Engineer Bart Oosthoek to provide some backgrounds.

What is your position at BRACE Automotive and how long have you been working in Automotive Engineering?


Bart: “I am a Project engineer, specialized in Functional Safety development and processes. I have been working in automotive engineering for about seven years, with a short detour working in the railway industry.”


What is triggering or requiring car manufacturers to perform safety recalls?


Bart: “If customers notice Safety Related defects on their vehicle (e.g. freezing accelerator, issues on steering, brakes or fire hazards due to short circuit), they can report this to a notifying body (also called NoBo, in the US this is the NHTSA) or in the case of severe incidents, forensic investigators report the issue. When enough issues are reported the NoBo will start an investigation and notify the car manufacturer with the results. In the US the law also states that the investigation and results should be made public for everybody. These can be found at this website: http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/defect/
If the car manufacturer does not take action in the form of a recall this can ultimately be forced by the NoBo.“


Are there really more recalls or is it just a case of recalls getting more publicity?


Bart: “Yes and yes. First due to the ever increasing number of features in vehicles, the complexity and chance for issues also increases. Next to this the car manufactures got very cautious after the unintended acceleration issues of Toyota. In this example so much bad publicity resulted that Toyota suffered huge losses in sales figures and revenues. The Toyota case really changed the automotive world. Due to the fear of being branded an unsafe manufacturer, most of the issues (even the very small or unverified ones) are solved very quickly with recalls sometimes even before the NoBo starts an investigation. Of course this is all to the full benefit of the consumer who will get better and safer cars.”


Aren’t there (legal) requirements that require car manufacturers to engineer and produce a safe vehicle?


Bart: “Before I answer this question, I need to explain the difference between Safety and Functional Safety. If we talk about Safety, we mean the features (or functions) of a vehicle to actively (accident preventive like ABS/ESP) or passively (reducing injuries by accidents like seat-belts, airbags) improve the Safety of the driver, passengers or pedestrians. When we talk about Functional Safety we mean how well the vehicle is designed to not cause any harm if due to any circumstance (failing of components, EMC radiation, short circuit etc.) the normal operation is not reached. In Functional Safety it is then stated that the design intention of this feature is not reached. In other words, if something fails it may not cause dangerous behavior of the vehicle (e.g. the accelerator pedal gets stuck)”


“The legislation provides very clear requirements for the active and passive safety in vehicles, for example ABS/ESP is mandatory in Europe and the US. For Functional Safety the legislation becomes rather vague. There is currently no legal requirement that e.g. forces the manufacturer to follow the ISO 26262 standard, but instead they demand that the design intend must be ensured under all conditions and that this must be achieved using state of the art standards and methods. Following the steps and procedures as described in ISO 26262 is today's state of the art for passenger cars.”


What options are there to capture these safety issues during the engineering phases?


Bart: “The best option is to involve Functional Safety from the beginning to the end-of-life of the vehicle. Functional Safety standards like the ISO 26262 provide a great handle to achieve this. The main key is to identify the intention of the system features and investigate if these do not cause dangerous or hazardous situations when this intention is not reached. Based on the amount of risk every feature can require special Functional Safety functions (like diagnostics, redundancies or supporting functions) to be added to prevent failing or to prevent the dangerous situation. The standards also provide guidelines to improve quality of the implementation of all the features”


What are the capabilities of BRACE in this field?


Bart: “At BRACE we support our customers with a large amount of domain knowledge regarding Functional Safety product and process development targeted to their specific situation and market. Beyond passenger cars this also includes Heavy-duty trucks and Off-Highway machines. We can provide support over the complete development life-cycle, from identifying features (problem domain) to implement safety mechanisms (solution domain) fully compliant with a large scale of Functional Safety standards.”


“To keep our domain knowledge up to a state-of-the-art level we have an internal organization that focuses on Functional Safety and System engineering and in which we run internal projects to investigate new technologies, processes and methods regarding Functional Safety”

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