Thoughts on quality with new Acerta board member Michael Sinnaeve

Last updated on June 26th, 2023

“I look at you as a baby alligator in an eggshell. You're at university and that shell is starting to crack. When it does, you're going to come out and gobble everything and everyone up. We will all be listening to and learning from you.”

This is what our new independent board member, Michael Sinnaeve, has told many young engineering co-op students over the years Michael has never been a stranger to innovative technologies and new methods of doing things – and he welcomes the influence that young changemakers bring to the industry. 

His attitude of continuous learning is one of the many things that led Michael to achieve astounding growth and success throughout his career in the automotive industry over three decades, during a time full of critical change in vehicle and critical component manufacturing.

A quick look at Michael’s career in automotive 

Michael started working as a general laborer at Livingston International which shipped overseas for major automotive companies like General Motors, Ford, and American Motors. His friendly demeanor caught the attention of senior executives, leading to his selection for a management training program sponsored by the chairman of the board and CEO. 

After completing the program, Michael was offered a job at Livingston’s American Motors division in London, Ontario where he helped in the managing of the exportation of Jeep components to various countries worldwide where they assembled the vehicles. Five years later, American Motors needed someone on-site to be their onsite representative and oversee their onsite business interests with Livingston as their service supplier. Michael gladly accepted the opportunity and fulfilled that role for a couple of years. 

The next chapter of his career unfolded when American Motors decided to construct an assembly plant in Brampton. Michael was asked to join the team and assist in building the plant, planning operations, supplier interface and the hiring of staff in certain areas.  

Chrysler acquired American Motors in 1987. Michael stayed with Chrysler for a few more years until Magna approached him. They were interested in his expertise in quality and operational improvement, and after several months of discussions, Michael became the Director for Quality and Continuous Improvement at Decoma International, focusing on exterior products. 

His successful tenure at Decoma caught the attention of Don Walker, the CEO of Magna. Don proposed a position at the corporate office, overseeing the company’s Quality and Continuous Improvement alongside Walker and two of his Senior Operations EVPs. Michael accepted the offer and spent 22 years at Magna Corporate, handling quality and operational improvement. He also took on additional responsibilities while at Magna in the areas of capital investment decisions and approval processes, along with real estate and construction, managing Magna’s global property portfolio. 

In 2020, as COVID-19 emerged, Michael made the decision to retire. Recently, we sat down with Michael to ask him about his perspective on the changing state of automotive manufacturing. 

Watching quality evolve in automotive manufacturing 

Michael noticed a definite shift over the course of his career in terms of how quality is managed. Early on, he saw more focus on solving problems on the shop floor and reducing the number of parts that were manufactured out-of-spec. As vehicles and manufacturing technologies became more complex, attention started to shift towards the initial design and prototyping of vehicles and their components. Design testing became more rigorous, focusing on durability as well as performance. It is now more common for quality teams to have input in the design process during the new product introduction cycle. 

Quality today can also be thought of as encompassing an even wider view beyond the vehicle itself. When Michael served as the chair of the Automotive Industry Action Group, autonomous driving had started to become a hot topic. How could the quality of an autonomous vehicle’s driving be ensured when it was navigating a complex world full of other vehicles that contained varying degrees of sensor technologies? 

Michael also emphasized a Total Quality Management approach. He said, “Quality is essential in all aspects of the business, including marketing, advertising, products, services, and even financial documents. My objective was to convey the significance of quality across all functional areas. Each team or department has a responsibility and a product to deliver, and maintaining quality is vital to achieving that goal”. 

Manufacturing data 

The amount of data available today in manufacturing is daunting. More complex parts and more precise manufacturing equipment means a higher volume of part data. More complex parts also need to be tested at many different stages of production.

Michael has observed many different methods of using available data, from manually entered SPC data on the line, to fully automated software solutions that monitor real-time data that can be shared quickly and easily with customers. He recognizes the ability to collect and understand that data as being central to the future in automotive manufacturing. It is one of the many reasons he was excited to join Acerta’s board.  

What will never change about quality in automotive manufacturing 

Time is money. Michael described the example of an operator at an OEM, receiving parts from a Tier-1 supplier to construct a final vehicle. The parts need to be of the highest quality because each operator has limited time to install the part. Changes cause delays and delays cost money.

“You have to consider the frustration that operators, supervisors, and managers face when a defective part disrupts the process,” he said.

At the end of the day, the purpose of quality is to satisfy the customer, to respect the safety of the end consumer, and to provide products and customer service that people can trust and rely on. No matter how many autonomous robots are added to an assembly line, each manufacturer will always need to think about their customers. 

“Human interface will always be there. Emotions will always be there no matter what. People are people,” said Michael. 

For details on Michael’s involvement on the Acerta Board of Directors, read our press release.

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