Raphaël Schuster’s most important tools are his eyes. The quality control manager of the smart plant in Hambach checks the newly made smart fortwo like the most demanding customer: meticulously and with a seventh sense for any imperfection.
Normally, only magicians, head waiters and chauffeurs wear white gloves. But magic tricks won’t help Raphaël Schuster. The moment, when a brand-new smart fortwo runs through his hands, is the last chance to remove any flaws. The buck really does stop here, under the neon lights.
smart magazine: Mr. Schuster, what’s the first thing you see when a freshly produced smart drives up?
Raphaël Schuster: The first glance is insignificant – it will never be enough. That’s why we conduct several intense tests and inspections. The surface inspection applies to paint defects and clearances, and with a rain test we check that the car is waterproof. Furthermore, we determine that everything is properly built on the underbody. In the dynamic inspection, we take the car out to the run-in track and then go for a spin on the outdoor circuit. At the end of the day, all the auditors check the car. The next morning it’s shown to all heads of production and to the quality control management.
smart magazine: How long does this audit process take?
Raphaël Schuster: About three hours per car and auditor, so everybody can check two cars per day. The work day for the serial production starts at 7.30 am, with our five auditors completing their audits by 4pm. The biggest challenge is to keep the bar set high everyday. And never weaken.
smart magazine: What would be the perfect work day in the audit?
Raphaël Schuster: The one that would bring cars with zero flaws. Happily, we get more and more of these zero-flaw-cars every day.
Things have come full circle for Schuster as he was involved in the testing of the first prototypes, which took him from smart HQ in Germany to the freezing temperatures of a Swedish winter and the searing heat of summer in South Africa.
smart magazine: What check is more demanding: a prototype or a serial car?
Raphaël Schuster: Of course, every prototype audit is a highlight: for the very first time, you not only have the finished components in your hand, but the entire car. For the static check we need one-and-a-half days, and an extra full day for the dynamic check. It’s important to find possible flaws and to present proposals for solutions, because the serial production aligns to this over the following years.
smart magazine: How do you test the prototype in more exotic regions?
Raphaël Schuster: The testing contains drives across diverse routes, ten nights long. At eight in the morning, the night drivers report all flaws and incidents. Then we re-drive the reported incidents and analyze them. Afterwards, we prepare the cars for the following night. And the process starts all over again…
smart magazine: What does working for smart mean to you ?
Raphaël Schuster: It means so much, because I’m a smart fan and drive a smart roadster. To me, a smart is simply a happy car. Plus, there’s a philosophy behind the whole brand that you won’t find anywhere else.
smart magazine: We guess that there’s no square millimeter on the new smart fortwo that you don’t know. But which feature do you like the most?
Raphaël Schuster: I like the continuing smart philosophy best. Just as every smart before it, it’s short length means that it can find a gap anywhere. Because cities are getting packed, we do need smaller cars. Apart from this, it’s got an interior that’s become more haptically appealing and unconventional at the same time. If you want something really unique you’re bang on target with the smart.
Watch our video “Behind the scenes in smartville” featuring logistics project manager Christophe Balthazard, paintshop coordinator Alexandre Zettl, engineer Claire Mutin who schedules the production process and quality control manager Raphaël Schuster.
All pictures, incl. the header image: Philipp Wente