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by Dale K. Gordon

Acronyms Used in This Article

  • AAQG—Americas Aerospace Quality Group
  • AECMA—European Association of Aerospace Industries
  • CFR—Code of Federal Regulations
  • FAA—Federal Aviation Administration
  • FAI—First Article Inspection
  • FAR—Federal Acquisition Regulations
  • IAQG—International Aerospace Quality Group
  • ISO—International Organization for Standardization
  • MRO—Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul
  • NADCAP—National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program
  • NASA—National Aeronautics & Space Administration
  • OEM—Original Equipment Manufacturer
  • SAE—Society of Automotive Engineers

Despite a depressed market, the aerospace industry's coordination and cooperation efforts are paying dividends. The joint efforts of the Americas Aerospace Quality Group and the International Aerospace Quality Group have produced five new quality management systems and related standards for aerospace and associated industries.

Following the October 1999 release of AS9100 by the Society of Automotive Engineers and the European Association of Aerospace Industries (AECMA), as well as related standards in Asia, a significant improvement occurred in aerospace suppliers' surveillance efficiency.

Originally, AS9100 combined and harmonized requirements outlined in the SAE's AS9000 and AECMA's prEN9000-1 standards. Following the release of ISO 9001:2000, AS9100 was revised and strengthened to better align with the ISO 9001 revision, and aerospace requirements were clarified.

Taking the complete life cycle of aerospace products into consideration, IAQG members focused on the complexity and diversity of the industry's supply chain and developed AS9110, Quality Management Systems--Aerospace--Requirements for Maintenance Organizations and AS9120, Quality Management Systems--Aerospace--Requirements for Stockist Distributors to complement AS9100. The SAE and other aerospace standards entities will publish both standards before the end of this year.

AS9110 focuses on the maintenance, repair and overhaul aspects of the aerospace business. Aircraft are designed to perform for 50 years or longer, but properly maintaining them is essential for continued safe operation. Thus, MRO requirements are an important part of an aerospace product's total life cycle. As more original equipment manufacturers enter into maintenance agreements with their customers, the same quality system aspects that prevail during manufacturing must also be present when a product is serviced.

Although airlines currently use other organizations and requirements to approve repair stations, OEMs believe that AS9110 offers robust and comprehensive requirements that can be applied to all levels of the MRO process. AS9110 complements the expanded use of ISO 9001 by major aerospace repair stations worldwide and provides necessary guidance for the Federal Aviation Administration's new requirements that concur with recently published revisions to Federal Acquisition Regulations Part 145.

AS9120 aims at the growing number of organizations that deal directly with OEMs and accumulate aerospace materials and products for resale. These distributors, or stockists, add a vital service to the industry but can also affect product performance if they fail to handle parts and materials correctly or lose a part's chain of custody from the OEM to the customer.

AS9120 also complements AS9100 and is planned for use by OEMs (although it's available to anyone in the aerospace supply chain). It's intended to replace SAE standard AS7103, which is currently listed in the FAA's Advisory Circular 00-56, Voluntary Industry Distributor Accreditation Program. This standard only applies to "pass through" distributors (i.e., businesses that only accumulate and distribute parts and materials rather than add value or work on the products themselves). Value-added distributors are subject to the appropriate requirements of AS9100.

How do the AS9100 standards help the industry?

Aerospace OEMs have developed fairly sophisticated and advanced quality management systems during the past 40 years. These have evolved because of increased product complexity and a better understanding of systems integration. AS9100 defines areas within an aerospace quality management system that are typically addressed when implementing an ISO 9001:2000-based quality system. These additional requirements are normally included within robust aerospace quality systems. As OEMs engage more of the lower levels of the supply chain in the complexities of production--even to delivering entire aircraft or propulsion systems--the need to define aerospace quality requirements becomes more acute. Industry experts responsible for writing AS9100 are primarily OEMs, all of which have agreed that these additions were essential to ensure the safety and quality of products, processes and services.

AS9100 quality management systems are designed to meet the specific needs of their users. Although AS9100 addresses specific areas within the aerospace industry, businesses that adopt the standard are encouraged to first establish a robust quality system that's both effective and efficient. The standards can then be tailored to the product or service that's offered to the customer. Ideally, the systems should oversee a holistic entity, with the many interlaced functions and processes working together within the business to meet the standards' requirements.

As an example, regulatory requirements are pervasive within the aerospace industry, and these must harmonize with customer needs. The requirements within AS9100 complement contractual and applicable laws and regulations. Companies implementing an AS9100-compliant quality system must ensure that the additional requirements of their customers--as well as regulatory agencies such as the FAA, FAR, and local, state, and national laws--are referenced within the system's documentation.

Additionally, issues such as configuration management (which is critical for after-market support of aerospace products with 50-year life spans and beyond) must begin in a product's design-and-development phase and continue along the entire value stream, fulfilling the customer's requirements.

Beyond ISO 9001

AS9100 includes several additions and clarifications to many of the ISO 9001:2000 requirements, although it should be noted that ISO 9001 provides the framework upon which the aerospace standards are built. The industry's supplementations and amplifications merely underscore its concerns with product safety, reliability and maintenance. However, other expectations relevant to the aerospace industry are outlined in the AS9100 standards. Some of these are codified in standards issued by the SAE and its global counterparts and are based upon existing best practices. These standards are referenced in AS9100 to ensure that manufacturers meet industry expectations.

One such expectation is the control of key characteristics, which are features of a material, process or part in which variation has a significant influence on product fit, performance, service life or manufacturability. AS9100 provides requirements for managing variation when a key characteristic is identified. These requirements crop up in Clause 7--Product Realization.

Because AS9100 describes--rather than prescribes--a quality management system, the industry has created other documents to amplify the requirements. AS9103, Variation Management of Key Characteristics was published in October 2001. This standard can be invoked as a customer requirement or used as guidance material in support of Clause 7 requirements. In either case, it highlights the importance that's placed on specific characteristics of the materials, parts and products in meeting safety, performance and quality objectives.

First-article inspection is another area that the industry wanted to clarify. AS9100's Clause 8.2.4.2 requires organizations to perform a first-article inspection at all levels of product creation and then update the FAI with any changes. AS9100 lists AS9102, First Article Inspection Requirements, which was published in August 2000, as a guidance document. Like AS9103, AS9102 can be invoked as a stand-alone contractual requirement. It provides absolute documentation to ensure that an FAI process identifies conforming product at initial production or provides corrective action for nonconforming product. Currently, most OEMs require FAIs to be documented on their own forms. AS9102 standardizes data requirements and reporting formats to eliminate the "hassle" factor. As part of the IAQG's regular standards review, AS9102 is now undergoing a revision, which will probably be completed in 2003.

AS9100 itself includes extensive supplementation about design and development. Given the complexity of aerospace products and customers' expectations for reliable performance, these topics have the greatest overall impact on a product and therefore require the most consideration. Design outputs have been supplemented to help identify key characteristics. AS9100 also amplifies design-and-development verification and validation, which are critical in a product's maturity cycle. The standard prescribes requirements for verifying documentation and validating testing and results.

Increasingly, suppliers are sharing the design-and-development activity as well as partnering with the OEMs, a significant change in the traditional aerospace supply chain. This presents some major challenges for the industry. The supply chain is now very long, and within the supply base there are sources that serve multiple industries.

Because the industry is so dependent upon its supply chain, AS9100 includes additional expectations for identifying and maintaining suppliers. Supplier approval is just one step in the process of managing suppliers. Another is accurately communicating requirements from the OEM down to the lowest link in the chain. AS9100 lists seven specific areas for consideration. These include clarifying engineering requirements, managing test specimens and establishing access to suppliers' facilities.

No aspect of supplier control is more important than understanding that a supplier is responsible for managing its subtier suppliers. This often includes special processes that are frequently subcontracted to processing houses. Concerning this issue, aerospace OEMs are promoting and requiring the use of OEM-approved and -controlled sources via the National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program or other customer-controlled processes. Most

U.S.-based OEMs have signed up for NADCAP, and representatives from the Department of Defense participate as well. Suppliers must use these customer-approved sources; however, it's still the supplier's responsibility to ensure that the processing is properly performed.

The industry also recognizes that things don't always go as planned. AS9100 outlines steps for controlling and disposing of nonconforming material in accordance with generally accepted industry practices. Here again, the industry has tried to eliminate the hassle factor by developing AS9131, Quality Systems Nonconformance Documentation. This standard outlines the specific requirements for contacting the customer for authorization when using or repairing a product that doesn't conform to engineering requirements. It also lists the data and information required when nonconformance is discovered anywhere in the process, even after the product is delivered.

Implementing the standards

Almost 70 percent of global IAQG members have implemented AS9100 internally and are requiring it of their suppliers. Many OEMs will require suppliers to comply with the current version of AS9100, AS9100 revision A, which aligns to ISO 9001:2000 and supercedes older ISO 9000 standards. Beyond writing the standards, the AAQG and IAQG are involved in site registrations and approvals of the various AS9100 standards.

Aerospace organizations differ in their methodologies for verifying compliance to AS9100. Some use external auditors to verify a supplier's compliance to applicable quality system requirements. Others provide suppliers with copies of external audits and permit them to share the audit results with other customers. However, the industry is migrating toward the use of third-party registrars as a means of demonstrating a supplier's compliance to the standard.

In the United States, the AAQG, in conjunction with the Registrar Accreditation Board, has established a process and requirements for auditors who perform AS9100 audits and for registrars who grant supplemental registrations. The process includes additional training and practical experience to ensure that auditors and registrars are competent and experienced in the industry. The AAQG, which has created a Registrar Management Committee to oversee this important function, defines the process in the SAE's Aerospace Information Report 5359. This document details the operation and responsibilities of all parties involved in the approval process. Currently, the document only covers AS9100 and AS9000. However, a revision is underway that will cover additional standards. The AAQG also issued AIR 5493, which describes the requirements for AS9100 standards training. Countries in both Europe and Asia are developing equivalent methods for this process.

Accepting the standards

The FAA has determined that AS9100 is "a comprehensive quality standard containing the basic quality control/assurance elements required by the current Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 14, Part 21." The U.S. Department of Defense has adopted AS9100 and made it available for use on contracts.

Likewise, NASA issued a similar notice that it had reviewed the standard and approved its use for contractual requirements.

Both the AAQG and IAQG envision their mission as more than standards development. Each seeks to harmonize requirements and streamline existing quality processes and best practices. To reach these goals, there's still some work to be done, including examining issues such as calibration requirements, sampling plans and software control--both embedded and nondeliverable.

As AS9100 takes root within the industry, its benefits become apparent. Obvious examples include a reduction in multiple expectations and a consistency in verification methodology. Thus far, the entire aerospace supply chain and its stakeholders are pleased with the results. Suppliers report a reduction in verification audits and an increased consistency in expectations. In turn, suppliers' customers point to reduced oversight costs and improved supplier performance. It's clear that AS9100 is helping the industry move efficiently and profitably into the future.

About the author

Dale K. Gordon is director of quality methods for Rolls-Royce North America in Indianapolis. He has more than 26 years of experience in aerospace quality and is a past chair of the Americas Aerospace Quality Group (1998–2001), a G-14 Society of Automotive Engineers committee responsible for the AS9000 series of standards. Gordon also led the group that created the AS9100 quality system standard for aerospace. Send letters to the editor regarding this article to letters@qualitydigest.com.