A product recall presents companies – especially SMEs – with enormous challenges. The company affected often lacks the experience and the necessary capacities. At the same time, it is precisely product recalls that demand fast action as well as rapid organisation of the operational handling.
On the basis of its high standards of quality for its own products, our customer, a business providing eMobility solutions, decided to carry out a voluntary, global recall of its lithium-ion batteries. There was a process weakness in the production at one of its suppliers, which constituted a risk to the safety of the product. In addition to a very short period of preparation, the particular challenge in this case lay in the size (capacity) of the batteries. There is a high level of regulatory demands in relation to storage and transportation for lithium-ion batteries with a capacity of more than 100 watt hours.
Initiating a recall and providing support until stable regular operations could resume.
The initiation of the recall was divided into the following work packets:
- Data analysis to narrow down the affected part numbers and the potential recall volume
- Supplier management to assure delivery capability
- Creation of a technical concept for the test and repair process, incl. service documentation
- Definition and implementation of the service processes and structures
- Creation of a logistics concept, with the piloting of new logistics partners
- Global communications, using various channels, to authorities, distributors, service partners, and customers
In the case of a recall, there is usually a high degree of time pressure. All activities intertwine and must be correspondingly well coordinated. Detailed and comprehensive schedule planning at the beginning therefore provides the foundation for a successful recall.
To begin with, the faulty products on the market must be restricted, and volume to be recalled must be deduced. To do this, all available data from suppliers, production, and sales were evaluated. A good system of traceability for production batches plays a significant role in the success of this, reducing effort and expense.
On the basis of the volume to be recalled, the availability of replacement parts must be ensured. The demand for large quantities at short notice will also frequently present suppliers with considerable challenges. For our customers, we therefore also temporarily provide support on site to the main suppliers. To guarantee the long-term supply of replacement parts, a tight process for tracking supply was established.
Depending on the type of product, the development of a well thought out testing and repair concept is important. In the case at hand, the development, quality, and service departments of the customer worked together closely to create a procedure to test the functionality and safety of the batteries. Due to our technical expertise and many years of experience in the service business, we were able to assist the client with advice relating to technical issues as well. The cost of training service partners was reduced by means of good service documentation. With the help of a “heat map” developed by us, it was also possible to distribute the test equipment early on to the service partners with the highest concentrations of customers.
In parallel to the technical procedure, we drew up a special process along with the customer for the service department. In our customer’s case, the execution of the recall involved a sharp increase in service queries, which is why the existing organisation was expanded with additional staff. For this purpose, detailed planning of operations is essential in order to be able to carry out an assessment of resources. Through creating work instructions, communications templates, and intensive coaching, KBC empowered the service team in the initial period, and provided support at the start of the product recall. In addition to defining processes, this included developing a tool to support efficient and continuous processing, and ensuring the ability to analyse the data.
Due to the high level of regulatory requirements, the transport of the batteries was a tremendous challenge for our customer in particular. In close collaboration with logistics companies, country-specific solutions were developed and implemented for processing.
The market-based green light for a recall is provided by the official public communication. This announcement must inform all customers, business partners, and authorities affected (in compliance with the product safety regulatory requirements of the individual countries). In close cooperation with our customer’s lawyers, the appropriate communications for this were drawn up, the contacts affected were identified, and a global communications campaign was carried out using various channels.
To manage the recall, we set up regular reporting, which was also necessary as the basis for progress reports to the authorities. Following the initiation and start-up support, the management of the recall was gradually handed over to internal staff. Finally, preventative measures were defined to avoid recalls in the future. For example, the evaluation of the end-of-line testing at suppliers was automated, to ensure error patterns are identified early on.
Realisation of potential
Time is a very critical factor in the case of recalls. Many of the activities described must happen in parallel in order to begin market communications as early as possible, and to ensure consumer protection. This was also our customer’s top priority, and together we achieved it. Good organisation and the temporary support of the departments involved was a key factor in the success of the project.