Millions of kilometers for its customers – the function safeguarding trial
Before Audi Quality Assurance and the Board of Management issue a total vehicle release for production of the new A3, what is known as the function safeguarding trial is performed with cars from the test and pilot series. The goal is to thoroughly check all aspects of the car that could potentially lead to complaints when they reach customer hands.
The function safeguarding trial begins about a half year before the production launch, provided that all parts – manufactured from production tools – and the software of the new car are available. This leaves enough time to resolve problems with their colleagues from Technical Development and Production.
In the function safeguarding trial, Quality Assurance employees drive about 600 pre-production vehicles in everyday driving over 50,000 km (31,068 miles) or 100,000 km (62,137 miles) annually. They are driven on public roads under the same conditions that customers will experience later on. In this testing, besides checking practical aspects of the design, the experts check the level of component quality as well.
Many different types of drivers participate in the function safeguarding trial – low-mileage and high-mileage drivers, women and men, young and old, tall and short, sporty drivers and more reserved drivers. They record their general impressions and evaluate special attributes in all vehicle areas. This encompasses such aspects as forces to move the steering wheel and pedals, the feel and acoustic behavior of controls and the functionality of roof carriers, auxiliary heating systems and trunk unlocking. Infotainment and driver assistance systems are playing an increasingly greater role here.
The function safeguarding trial is conducted in Germany as well as in foreign countries and different continents – under extreme conditions in many places. In Singapore, for example, air humidity is usually very high; here condensation water can elicit functional problems. In Beijing, on the other hand, the focus is on components that are particularly stressed in stop-and-go traffic – the parking brake, clutch, thermal management and horn, for example. Another issue in China is the quality of available fuel.
In interior regions of Asia, the streets and mountain roads stir up a lot of dust, which can damage mechanical parts like window lifts. The bitter cold prevailing in northern regions can cause plastic parts to become brittle and grate, and electronic control modules may start up slowly. Dry, fine-grained snow is also capable of plugging up induction air ducts to the engine; therefore, Audi installs special screens for cold countries.
In export countries, local drivers take the steering wheel in the framework of the function safeguarding trial – they input typical driving habits and expectations of the local region into the evaluation. Chinese drivers, for example, generally shift gears early, while US customers use the air conditioning more intensively and value cup holders more. Russian customers, on the other hand, appreciate a quickly responding heating system highly.
The work of Quality Assurance – Total Vehicle does not end at the production launch – it continues into the production process. Until production runout, employees regularly audit vehicles from ongoing production for their quality, including in foreign plants. When important technical innovations make their way into production, they are first validated in specially designed test programs.
Members of the Board of Management conduct their own evaluation drives on a regular basis – top managers at Audi possess a great deal of expert know-how. The proverbial “gasoline in the blood” and passionate discussions about the character of each individual model have become engrained in the brand’s business culture. After a final acceptance drive, the production release for the total vehicle is official issued.
Even before the function safeguarding trial, what is referred to as the function safeguarding process is started at Audi; here the primary focus is on electronic and electrical systems, such as the new infotainment system in the A3. An expert team from the Development and Quality Assurance areas takes to the roads in specially configured vehicles. One goal is to uncover any defects in the electronic control modules and their networked communications.
The cars in the function safeguarding process have complex on-board test instruments that are powered by a separate battery. In teams of two, the driver and passenger work through special functional checklists – from opening and closing the windows to altering the navigation destination. While doing this, they observe the general behaviors of systems and components. In background, the measuring equipment documents available data for later use in error analysis. The great efforts that Audi invests in the function safeguarding process and the function safeguarding trial serve one purpose – quality in the service of the customer.
The equipment, data, and prices specified refer to the model range offered in Germany. Subject to change without notice; errors and omissions excepted.