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by Michael C. Roberts

Most airline travelers take the quality of the airplane for granted, and that’s a good thing. Passengers shouldn’t be burdened with the complex quality universe that goes on daily behind the aerospace scene. They should be comforted by the knowledge that those million parts flying in close formation are products of a very effective and efficient quality management system (QMS). Travelers should also have confidence that whether they fly in a private plane, commuter plane, regional jet, single-aisle jetliner, twin-aisle jetliner or mega-

jetliner, they’re all built under the scrutiny of the same global quality system. This same quality system is employed by aviation, space and defense industries worldwide.

Competitors such as Boeing, Lockheed, EADS, Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier, BAE, Northrop and Cessna have established a common worldwide quality system that benefits aerospace customers, manufacturers and suppliers. Travelers and aerospace system users now have a quality foundation that’s standardized, monitored and controlled. It’s no wonder that in 2005, more than 625 million passengers flew some 720 billion miles domestically with safety and quality statistics that are the envy of all other transportation industries.

A proliferation of approaches
The aerospace industry wasn’t always this effective. During the mid-1990s, aerospace quality faced many challenges. The ISO 9001 standard was in its infancy, and the Perry Initiatives were cancelling any and all standards beginning with Mil-, including the old Mil-Q-9858 workhorse. There were National Aeronautics and Space Administration standards, Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, and just about every aerospace manufacturer and defense contractor had its own quality documents, including, most notably, the Boeing D1-9000 series.

The major aerospace original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) had armies of auditors performing quality system audits at their thousands of suppliers. Key suppliers had staffs of quality personnel to dust off the Lockheed quality manual for this week’s audit, while putting away the Northrop quality manual from the week before. Every OEM churned out its unique forms, special processes, supplier manuals and quality clauses. In the lobby of any major supplier, you could see the gallery of OEM Gold and Silver quality pennants, rich wooden quality rating plaques and glass cases of crystal quality awards. This scenario repeated itself as you worked your way down the aerospace parts manufacturing chain.

There were signs for quality everywhere, yet quality was difficult to define, categorize or distinguish. Often, OEMs were affiliated with the quality gurus--W. Edwards Deming, Joseph M. Juran, Philip Crosby, Genichi Taguchi--while others were entranced by quality charismatics like Tom Peters and Peter Drucker. Workers joked about the quality system flavor of the month. All the while, other industries (e.g., automotive, telecommunications and medical) were going through similar awakenings. U.S. manufacturers were inundated by an invasion of consultants with British accents preaching ISO 9001 standards.

At the same time, the manufacturing world was beginning to embrace ISO 9001. On the surface, this standard seemed to be sufficient and effective for the general manufacturing and service industries. The aerospace industry had further requirements to satisfy its FAA, NASA and Department of Defense customers, as well as to ensure product quality, safety and reliability. For a few years the aerospace industry tried ISO 9001 with OEM-unique quality clauses. But again, the inefficiencies of following OEM-specific requirements soon became evident.

In December 1998, a group of aerospace quality professionals in Derby, England, got together (some say over a pint) and agreed that they could no longer afford the costs of all these individual quality efforts. Suppliers were complaining that they couldn’t afford to operate with dozens of quality systems, and the OEMs complained that they couldn’t afford to perform hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of on-site quality audits. It was time to create a stand-alone aerospace quality standard.

Unification under IAQG
The International Aerospace Quality Group was formed in 1999 and divided the world into three sectors: Europe (EAQG), Americas (AAQG) and Asia-Pacific (APAQG). The first task was to write a new quality standard. The initial effort, called AS/PREN 9000, was a good attempt because it captured most of the identified aerospace quality requirements, but it didn’t have the substance necessary for a global standard. The IAQG and its sectors settled on an approach that used ISO 9001 as its foundation. This new aerospace quality standard was known as 9100 (usually shown with the sector prefixes EN, AS or JISQ). This standard proved to be a winner. It embraced ISO 9001 word-for-word while embedding numerous additional aerospace requirements intended to satisfy the majority of aerospace customers. When Boeing and Airbus showed their early support and commitment to 9100, the other OEMs and the supplier base quickly followed.

Managing this quality system proved to be a bit intimidating. The IAQG promoted the industry-controlled other party (ICOP) concept, which defined a process for the IAQG member companies to control and oversee the 9100 quality system while using the ISO 9001 third-party audit/registration base to conduct the audits. This process had several immediate benefits. First, OEMs could essentially get out of the quality system audit business and concentrate on product and process audits. Second, suppliers would see a substantial reduction in the number of audits at their facilities because one common audit would be accepted by all customers. Third, the aerospace QMS experienced improved integrity and acceptance because the audits were more uniform and standardized, auditor training and qualifications were defined, and registrar performance was monitored. Finally, overall costs were reduced due to fewer audits and better consistency through standardization.

To manage the worldwide control of the aerospace QMS, the IAQG sanctioned the other party management team (OPMT). Each sector then created a similar team to manage accreditation body, registrar and auditor activities at the regional levels. In the Americas, this team is called the registrar management committee (RMC), and it’s been most prolific in auditor qualification reviews, registrar certifications and monitoring, creation of operating standards, and surveillance of the entire system. In addition to meeting several times a year, the RMC has regularly hosted workshops and training sessions benefiting auditors, registrars and suppliers. Much of the success of the RMC can be attributed to the OEMs partnering with the registrars during the early stages of QMS development, resulting in processes that have ownership by all. Also key to RMC success has been the participation of the FAA, NASA and the defense department.

OASIS for all
Although the seeds of this system were planted in 1999, the aerospace QMS blossomed in 2003, in part due to the release of the Online Aerospace Supplier Information System. This database is the official repository for all 9100 certification records, auditor qualifications and IAQG membership information. OASIS now boasts more than 6,500 certified 9100 supplier listings, 650 qualified 9100 auditors, 85 accredited 9100 registrars and 10 national accreditation bodies. The publicly accessible part of the OASIS database contains the general information found on the supplier’s 9100 certificate and a copy of the certificate. This database is available to everyone and only requires first-time users to register with some basic information. The real power residing in OASIS is the detailed audit information from current and previous audits. The IAQG requires the documenting of audit scoring and nonconformance data into OASIS to aggregate this information into metrics used to monitor the aerospace quality system’s health. These data are also useful in identifying trends and can point to issues that might need to be addressed during subsequent revisions to the standards. Meanwhile, individual suppliers can make available their own detailed information (e.g., audit scoring and nonconformance information) to any or all individuals or entities they select within OASIS. For example, Acme Tin-Bending Corp. can show its private data to John Q. Smith and Wings-R-Us (Topeka division) for 10 days, simply by choosing a variety of available parameters and menu pull-downs.

In addition to the thousands of initial, recertification and surveillance quality system audits performed by third-party registrars each year at aerospace suppliers, the IAQG members perform more than 200 assessments and oversight audits of the registrars and accreditation bodies. These assessments are performed at the accreditation body’s and registrar’s home offices, and they tag along with the accreditation body and registrar to witness supplier certification audits. For the purposes of continuous improvement, the results of these assessments are compiled at a high level and then discussed with both IAQG members and the registrar community during the RMC meetings. IAQG members performing the assessments receive special training but don’t perform certification activities.

New IAQG standards
Recently, the IAQG added two variations of the base 9100 document to its list of standards. EN/AS/JISQ 9110 has been issued for repair and maintenance operations, and EN/AS/JISQ 9120 has been issued for stockist distributors. Each of these documents has a checklist document with detailed scoring criteria (9101, 9111 and 9121, respectively). The IAQG also has issued standards describing its requirements for special topics such as first-article inspection (9102), key characteristics (9103), nonconformance documentation (9131) and operator self-verification (ARP9162). At the Americas sector level, additional standards address software (AS9006 and ARP9005), direct shipments (ARP9004), aerospace contract clauses (ARP9009), statistical product acceptance (ARP9013) and other areas. (Note that all international documents begin with a 91xx code, whereas all sector-specific documents begin with 90xx. AS documents are aerospace standards and ARP documents are aerospace recommended practices.)

At the international level, the OPMT created a trio of documents describing how the system will be managed by the industry. The foundation document for managing the system is 9104A, which describes the IAQG’s involvement; sector management structure; management of auditors, registrars and accreditation bodies; the OASIS database; and reporting, certification and metrics processes. The recently published document 9104-2 details the oversight and surveillance processes. This document describes the activities of aerospace members in performing industry oversight of the accreditation bodies and registrars. Another recently published document, 9104-3, describes the auditor qualification and training processes. Aerospace auditor applicants are required to have four years of experience in the past 10 years with a major airframer or engine manufacturer, in addition to meeting other auditing, training and experience criteria. There are provisions for aerospace-experienced individuals who fall outside of those limits, but they’re required to attend significant competency training and have additional audit experience.

Sector-specific document AS9014 defines the aerospace system management processes in the Americas, including requirements unique to the United States, Canada and Brazil. The Americas sector enjoys the unity of a single system, with the United States, Canada and Brazil working together. The EAQG is divided into country-specific management systems, and the APAQG is currently dominated by the Japanese QMS, with China and Korea just beginning serious involvement.

Metrics are collected at the sector level by the RMCs and the IAQG OEMs, and incorporated into a global summary for IAQG trending and status/confidence reports to aerospace authorities and customers. These metrics indicate that the global quality system is very robust, with membership and involvement increasing steadily. So far, there’s been no indication of saturation of the number of aerospace suppliers attempting to attain 9100 certification.

The core of IAQG and AAQG operations comes from dedicated OEM participation. Besides the twice-annual (or more often) meetings of the IAQG, AAQG, OPMT and RMC, several subcommittees meet regularly to address core strategies (e.g., requirements, process capability, people capability and subtier supplier controls) as well as relationship growth strategies with the authorities, accreditation bodies, and space and defense sectors. During the next 24 months, look for a comprehensive supply chain management handbook to be published, as well as skills and competency guides for aerospace quality skills.

Leave the flying to them
What does all this mean to airline travelers or aerospace customers? It means that they can be confident that quality is addressed seriously and uniformly. It means that the system is managed efficiently to keep costs low. It means integrity in a system that’s defined by standards and managed by the industry itself. It also means that worldwide manufacturers and suppliers of aerospace products are unified by the same standard, practices, processes and control systems. The IAQG members view quality as a global partnership, not a competitive advantage, and thus quality is transparent to the airline traveler or aerospace product customer.

Suggested references

International Aerospace Quality Group -- www.sae.org/iaqg

Americas Aerospace Quality Group -- www.sae.org/aaqg

Online Aerospace Supplier Information System -- www.sae.org/oasis


About the author
Michael C. Roberts is a technical fellow at Boeing Integrated Defense Systems in St. Louis, Missouri. He’s the past chairman of the AAQG RMC and the past co-chairman of the IAQG OPMT. He’s an ASQ-certified quality engineer and certified quality manager. Roberts serves on the board of directors for SAE Institute and the management advisory board for Underwriters Laboratories. He has sponsored, authored or co-authored several international aerospace standards. Roberts’ background includes quality, reliability, failure analysis and aerospace microelectronics.