Aerospace companies have always faced strict regulations so that airplane passenger and freight travel remain safe. These regulations continue to be tightened and modified to ensure that companies like Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, United Technologies, and countless strictly adhere to meticulous safety standards
AS9100 is a widely accepted quality assurance standard for aerospace companies. Aerospace companies around the globe require manufacturers they work with to abide by AS9100 in order to do business with them.
AS9100 has a long history, with many other quality assurance standards having been used in the past for aerospace companies. Before AS9100, the US government used two primary regulations for quality control in the aerospace industry. The first was called the Quality Program Requirements and the second was called the Military Specification Inspection System Requirements.
Eventually, the US determined that more uniform regulations should be implemented and introduced ISO 9001, officially retiring the previous regulations. From this point on, manufacturers and suppliers in the aerospace industry would need to abide by these new standards. Further iterations of these standards were developed, eventually leading to the currently used AS9100 and its several revisions.
Revisions to the original AS9100 included making it more focused on risk, missing requirements and delivery conformance, eliminating corrective redundancies, and implementing improved development processes. Other revisions focused on reducing human error, preventing counterfeit parts production, and streamlining operational processes. These revisions are in line with the overall goal of ensuring quality and safety of aerospace products and supplies.
At its core AS9100 is a quality management system that is designed to guide manufacturers in how they implement processes and operations to ensure the quality of their products.
As you can imagine, this is extremely important in the aerospace industry, since shoddy manufacturing and quality management can have dire consequences for passengers, crew, and a company’s bottom line.
Manufacturers that follow AS9100 can gain the peace of mind and potential business of aerospace companies that need all supplies and parts to be of top quality in order to reduce risk.
In order to comply with AS9100, manufacturers must identify the different interactions of processes in their organization and determine operational costs to minimize wasteful spending. Manufacturers must also comply with the standards of other regulations including First Article Inspection (FAI) requirements, and Foreign Object Damage (FOD) requirements.
First Article Inspection requirements entail a process by which manufacturers test their quality management processes by producing a single product or item. The manufacturer can then analyze each process that was used as well as the final product itself to determine if all quality assurance standards have been followed.
Foreign Object Debris refers to any item or substance that is outside a quality management system that could interfere with or cause damage to products or items produced by the manufacturer. These items might cause harm to manufacturing personnel, result in production delays, or cause equipment damage.
AS9100 contains specific clauses that compel manufacturers to implement systems and practices to detect and remove foreign objects that could impact production. A common real-world example might be a tool that is left inside an aircraft or aerospace component that might cause internal jams or malfunctions. Ensuring impeccable quality management practices is crucial for the aerospace industry as a whole since even large companies have made costly mistakes in the past.
Manufacturers interested in implementing a strategic effort to gain AS9100 certification must approach the quality assurance process systematically. First, you must engage top management and get leadership on board with the plan to get certified. Company leadership can then communicate what steps should be taken by each employee and department.
Proactive leadership will motivate employees to participate in quality management efforts. This is important because employee awareness and engagement is crucial to the process.
Next, it is important to clearly establish and communicate the goals of any quality assurance initiative. When setting goals, company leadership should consider the expectations of customers, the culture of the company, the costs of the effort, and the potential risks it could pose to the organization.
Company management can then assess the differences between their current operations and their goals to create a plan for how to shift their processes. Essentially, management will assess which parts of their operations are currently living up to AS9100 standards and which aren’t.
After making the necessary changes to their manufacturing operations, companies should begin a pilot process in which these new systems can be tested. This is the period in which the company can live up to First Article Inspection requirements and begin to collect data. After collecting and analyzing data, further modifications can be made to enhance quality assurance processes.
In order for their manufacturing processes to comply with these standards, suppliers must collect, record, and analyze environmental data related to the condition of their manufacturing plants. This data is used to conduct internal audits in order to verify compliance with AS9100.
Data loggers, or electronic devices used to collect environmental data such as temperature, humidity, and differential pressure, are often used to collect and record time-stamped data that can be analyzed during internal audits. Management then reviews the data as well as the manufacturing processes being employed. Next, corrective actions are taken based on any processes that are found to be noncompliant.
After completing an internal audit, manufacturers will have to submit to an external audit before being certified as AS9100-compliant. External auditors will make sure that your quality management system matches the specifications laid out in AS9100 in a process known as a documentation audit.
Finally, they will conduct the official certification audit. To do so, they will interview employees and review data logs to verify that all standards are being met. This is why it is so important for manufacturers to collect accurate data, and why data loggers can be extremely helpful in automating that process.
It is no wonder that manufacturers and aerospace companies are soaring towards AS9100, given the importance of quality assurance management in the industry. Quality assurance is a multifaceted process, and time will tell what future refinements will be introduced to AS9100. But having rigorous manufacturing in the aerospace industry is sure to help keep the skies safe.