At the beginning of the tenure of UD Trucks technology senior vice-president Douglas Nakano, UD’s heavy-duty Quon was under development for release in Japanese and global markets.
But as Mr Nakano’s reforms were being implemented, the company was still dealing with 850 individual issues (each named a “Protus” by engineers) needing to be resolved before the truck could be released.
Paradoxically, the Volvo Group’s product validation structure, in place throughout the group’s global markets, was slowing down the process. The interface with the Japanese business model amplified delays in handling issues.
Mr Nakano asked for, and got, authority to model his team on Volvo’s internal Group Trucks Technology (GTT) framework, but retain independence in making immediate and critical decisions of design and development, within the parameters of the group truck platform.
Management focus shifted to customer satisfaction and, with each identified Protus tabled in weekly board meetings at the factory, the list of unresolved issues was gradually forced down — to just five when production start-up was near.
But the ability of the organisation to deal with product issues promptly and efficiently still caused delays. For example, the domestic market was resisting the 11-litre engine because of the park-regeneration events triggered by the emissions control system.
Mr Nakano called his team together and, after being told it was a two-year fix, gave them six months to design, build and validate the solution for production. “Don’t sit here looking stunned, the clock has started ticking!”
The engineers got to it and, with all approvals handled locally, met deadline and now, in 98.5 per cent of applications the trucks run without having to pull up and regenerate.
Now, instead of complaints being parked in a department of technicians who are willing but lack ultimate management decision authority, each complaint is tabled at the weekly board meeting.
UD’s vice-president of quality and customer satisfaction, Luis Plocharski, says that when a complaint is made, an engineer is sent to the truck in question, getting eyes on the problem in its application context. Local conditions, ambient temperature, dust, driver habits, as well as local service support are all analysed so the factory can work with the customer.
In Australia, that approach solved an oil consumption issue with one fleet that had its owner declaring he’d never buy another UD.
The arrival of a factory technician from Japan was a surprise. As was the new engine and immediate shipping of the problem block back to Japan. A kit was designed, validated and approved to prevent the problem recurring, fitted to each of the owner’s trucks and the fleet has since ordered a dozen new UDs with more on the cards.
The consequence of these active- management moves cannot be overestimated.
UD Trucks in Japan rediscovered profitability in 2016, improving that result each year since. The company has yet to cover the accumulated losses of the past but the trend is positive and UD is now a valued part of Volvo Group’s global network.