Breaking Into: Automotive Industry

Sarah is a sales & marketing content writer, with ten years of experience within the engineering & manufacturing industry.  Working both at Qimtek and on a freelance basis, she can usually be found hammering away at a keyboard or with her head in a pile of engineering drawings. 

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With large household names looking at investment in UK manufacturing post-Brexit, has there ever been a better time to break into the automotive industry?

You may have heard Nissan’s name in the news lately, following their announcement to invest in national manufacturing following the UK’s departure from the EU. With uncertain times ahead for many companies, it is reassuring to know that OEMs of their size and stature are committed to bringing the entirety of their supply chain to home soil, creating plenty of expansion opportunities for subcontract suppliers.

Companies situated in close proximity to their Sunderland plant are in prime location to reap the benefits; however, with many of their competitors also expected to follow suit, there is no telling how abundant the opportunities for automotive industry suppliers could become.

With a rush of would-be vendors all vying for a space on the preferred supplier lists of these prestigious names, it really will be the early bird who catches the worm. So, what steps should a company take to ensure that they are ready to service the automotive industry?

What Can I Expect?

Automotive work is consistent, unlike that of its sister industry, autosports. Autosports tends to be much more sporadic, with a build-up towards the racing season and less work available at other times of the year. Those that are heavily involved within the autosports world tend to supplement their workload with projects from other industries, in order to avoid lots of spare capacity outside of peak times.

Suppliers that focus more on the general automotive industry avoid this problem, as there is no slowdown in production from month to month. With a range of work available to suit all capabilities, from fabricated chassis panels to machined engine components, it’s easy for potential suppliers to identify areas in which they could offer assistance.

Automotive engineering has a tendency to be price-orientated, meaning that suppliers with low overheads may fare better when quoting this type of work. However, the sheer scale and abundance of projects available means that the industry still holds a worthy customer base for those with the right set-up.

Suppliers can expect to adhere to strict deadlines, as the nature of the industry makes orders extremely time sensitive. Therefore, short lead times are par for the course and the offer of a quick turnaround will stand potential vendors in good stead to win regular work.

What Certifications Will I Need?

The largest approval for the supply of parts and services into the automotive industry has previously been certification to ISO/TS 16949; however, this standard is currently subject to significant changes.

‘As of October 2016, the automotive quality management standard is IATF 16949, which has replaced its TS 16949 predecessor,’ explains Thomas Harrison, Commercial Engagement Manager at BSI Group. ‘This leaves an interim period for companies certified to the old standard to bring themselves up to speed and transition to the new standard before the 14th September 2018 deadline.’

‘Whilst TS 16949 will remain a valid certification for the next two years, suppliers that are looking to break into the automotive industry for the first time should focus on working towards certification to the new IATF 16949 standard, as no new TS 16949 certificates can be issued after 1st October 2017.’

But is all automotive work dependent on having IATF 16949 in place? Supplier requirements can vary depending on your position in the supply chain, the safety critical nature of the parts as well as the environmental impacts of the manufacturing process.

Some OEMs make their supplier requirements publicly available or have people dedicated to handling new supplier enquiries. Reviewing these requirements or speaking to procurement teams directly can ensure that you know what will be expected from you, meaning you can take the steps needed to get the applicable approvals and certifications in place for your business.

There are plenty of different routes to becoming IATF 16949 certified, from training courses to hiring an external consultant; however, these all lead back to a mandatory two-stage assessment from an IATF recognised certification body, which will need to be passed before certification is achieved.

So what will auditors look for during the assessment process?

‘It’s crucial that senior leadership can demonstrate that they have embedded the standard within their organisation, ensuring that it is continuously adhered to on a daily basis,’ says Thomas.

‘It’s not enough simply to want a certificate on the wall – it needs to be an active part of the company’s culture.’

For organisations looking to transition their TS 16949 certification, BSI are hosting events to support this, with an exclusive discount available to Qimtek members. Simply click here and use the code “qimtekauto” to receive £50 off.

It Goes Without Saying, But…

No matter what industry you’re currently working in or looking to break into, strong customer service skills will always be at the forefront of any business’s reputation. It’s never too early to start building rapport with potential customers – in fact, this is perhaps the most important element of any sales process.

When a buyer works with a supplier whom they have not previously used, they’re placing their faith into an unknown entity, whose quality and reliability have not yet been proven. Suppliers can take additional steps to ensure that their would-be client feels confident in their abilities. For example, take the time to call and introduce yourself to any potential customers, as opposed to simply emailing over a quote. Not only is this invaluable in establishing a relationship whereby none previously exists, but it also gives you the opportunity to glean valuable information that will make your quote stand out from the rest.

For example, during the course of that conversation, did you find out that the buyer values a fast turnaround? Boast about your short lead times. Is quality the driving force behind the buyer’s placement of work? Be sure to point out your approvals and accreditations. Simply put, a price alone is meaningless if the client doesn’t know what they are getting for their money.

Once you’ve won work from a company, the hardest part is behind you. Customer retention relies almost solely on the ability to keep promises – after all, it was those promises that landed you the account in the first place. Make sure that you adhere to agreed delivery schedules and supply high-quality components. Go the extra mile to help a buyer in a crisis. Maintain open lines of communication with your customer and keep them informed of any changes to agreed parameters, working together to come up with a solution that benefits both parties.

These guidelines are just as prudent to subcontract engineering companies as they are to any company, offering any service, in any industry. Those that are looking to focus on the automotive sector should be aware that a majority of the work is sensitive in terms of both time and price, making communication exceptionally important in order to avoid any potential misunderstandings.

By placing an emphasis on delivering outstanding customer service, suppliers can be confident that they will continue to win regular work from their automotive customers.