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Arshad Hafeez


Nadcap Accreditation Means Excellence for Aerospace Industry

Nadcap is a cooperative aerospace and defense industry effort to improve quality while reducing costs.

Published: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 - 02:00

Whenever the economic climate freezes assets and sends investors scurrying for cover, businesses must find new ways to grow and stand out from the competition. Cost-cutting is the obvious, and usual, course of action. But in troubled times, isn’t it better to do something proactive and positive, rather than defensive and reactionary, to impress customers? What about benefits that organizations can offer above and beyond the obvious?

For the aerospace industry, quality has long been a key procurement consideration. For many manufacturing primes, the path to excellence increasingly runs through special processes such as heat-treating, coatings, and materials testing. That’s because original equipment manufacturers (OEM) can often trace the cause of a flawed component back to a special process in a supplier’s shop, and restricting that possibility helps with risk management.

Auditing special processes in aerospace

Twenty years ago, the major aerospace companies were auditing their own suppliers for technical proficiency in areas such as nondestructive testing, welding, and heat treating. This meant a significant workload for the primes, and auditors were often forced to become generalists to accommodate the workload.

In 1990, the National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program (Nadcap) was implemented as part of Customer Solutions & Support of the nonprofit Performance Review Institute (PRI), headquartered in Warrendale, Pennsylvania. Nadcap represents an unprecedented, cooperative industry effort to improve quality while reducing costs throughout the aerospace and defense industries. It’s an approach to conformity assessment that brings together technical experts from both global industry and U.S. government to establish requirements for accreditation, approving suppliers, and defining operational program requirements.

"The growing integration of Nadcap into the aerospace industry, and its role in quality assurance, is indicative of the commitment to excellence that’s represented throughout the global aerospace community," explains Chet Daté of Honeywell Aerospace and former Nadcap Management Council chairperson.

Honeywell is just one subscriber to Nadcap; others include Airbus, The Boeing Co., Bombardier, and Rolls-Royce Corp. Unlike traditional third-party assessment programs, Nadcap is an industry-managed program. It promotes a standardized approach to quality assurance and a reduction in redundant auditing throughout the aerospace industry. For the first time, industry has joined forces to develop a program that:

  • Establishes stringent industry-consensus standards that satisfy the requirements of all participants
  • Replaces routine supplier auditing with one program that is approved through a consensus decision-making process by members from the user community
  • Conducts more in-depth, technically superior, special-process audits
  • Improves supplier quality throughout the industry through stringent requirements
  • Reduces costs through improved standardization
  • Uses technically expert auditors to ensure process familiarity
  • Provides more frequent audits for primes and fewer audits for suppliers


How Nadcap supports business objectives

A Nadcap audit differs significantly from an audit for general quality or for compliance to an ISO standard. With those types of audits, the following generic quality questions may be used regardless if the work being audited is nondestructive testing, heat treating, or chemical processing:

  • Does the supplier define the processes employed for calibrating, inspection, measuring, and testing?
  • Is there adequate documentation of equipment type, including unique identification, location, frequency of checks, check method, acceptance criteria, and the action to be taken when results are unsatisfactory?


During a Nadcap audit, individual special process and product requirements are taken very seriously, and the sample questions above wouldn’t be appropriate. To highlight the depth of a Nadcap audit, the following questions would be used:

  • Nondestructive testing. Are the fluorescent penetrant inspection (FPI) dryer ovens calibrated every three months at multiple points across the usable range?
  • Chemical processing. Are measuring and test equipment (e.g., temperature gauges, conductivity meters, voltmeters, and rectifiers) used to control, or monitor the control of, a process (within parameters) maintained in a calibration system compliant with the measurement management systems standard, ISO 10012?
  • Heat Treating. Are furnaces used for heat treating aluminum parts surveyed at the required tolerance and temperature range?


Although focusing on quality is without question a positive step, does it actually support business objectives?

Every two years since 2003, PRI has issued a survey to the Nadcap supplier base. Among other questions, the survey asks, "If your company has been accredited for one year or more, and your company measures business and/or quality trends, have you seen improvement in the area(s) related to your Nadcap accreditation(s)?" More than 75 percent of respondents have indicated that quality has improved, while nearly half of the respondents in 2007 said that business has improved.

Although the majority of Nadcap-accredited suppliers received a mandate from their customers to become accredited, others made a strategic decision to participate. Edward Engelhard, plant metallurgist at Owego Heat Treat Inc., located in Apalachin, New York, explained that in 2003 his company made a business decision driven not by customer requirement, but by a proactive poll of its aerospace customers. Owego Heat Treat’s subsequent Nadcap accreditation raised confidence and professionalism throughout the organization and promoted quality awareness. Engelhard reported that prime customer visits were reduced by at least 75 percent. (Surveys performed on the Nadcap-accredited supplier base indicate an average 40-percent reduction in audits following Nadcap accreditation.)

In addition, Owego Heat Treat’s rework and scrap rates were significantly reduced. Before achieving Nadcap accreditation, it wasn’t unusual to rework five or six orders per 100, while scrapping one per 1,000. Following Nadcap, the rework rate fell by approximately one-half, to two or three per 100, and the scrap rate was reduced to around one per 3,000. The company’s product-escape rate fell from one per 3,000 to 5,000 orders to one per 6,000 to 10,000 orders. Its discovery and response times were much improved as well. Although all of these process improvements have cost implications, they aren’t just about reducing cost; they’re also about refusing to compromise on quality, and leading the charge in continuous quality improvement.

Improving quality assurance

Aerospace suppliers aren’t alone in benefiting from Nadcap, though. "Heat treating and coating operations, to name two, are difficult to inspect and hard to do right. Nadcap accreditation gives primes and OEMs confidence that their supplier base is world class," says Dick Pocock, former vice president of quality assurance for Honeywell.

"One of Airbus’ key objectives is to continuously improve its supply chain by mastering the supplier’s approval and the surveillance of its manufacturing capabilities," noted Camille Valmy of Airbus in 2005. "Meeting our global quality standards will be one of our mandatory supplier requirements for existing programs, selection criteria for all future Airbus programs, and a basis of our ongoing business relationship. Nadcap provides a robust special-process supply chain, eradication of nonvalue-added activities, assessment data access and visibility, and a common industry approach."

The Nadcap auditor

Nadcap audits are performed by highly qualified individuals who typically have years of experience in the aerospace industry. Martin Bridge, a Nadcap heat treatment and aerospace quality systems auditor, describes how he got involved with the program: "I worked in the UK steel industry and ended up as a quality director in first-tier automotive supply. This is a volatile industry and, when my company downsized, I wanted something different. Nadcap is different. I was attracted to Nadcap auditing because it allows me to control my working hours. I can work as many—or as few—weeks as I want. I earn roughly the same as I would doing consultancy work, where I would have to pay my expenses. It’s also very predictable; the booking horizon is currently around six months. If I don’t want to do an audit, I can always say no. The work is technically interesting and varied, and all the companies that I visit are different. I enjoy the opportunity to travel and improve my foreign language skills, although it’s also nice to be able to carry out audits closer to home."

His experiences are echoed by Chee Soon Lum, Nadcap auditor for chemical processing, heat treatment, and unconventional machining and surface enhancement: "Following my employment with Sundstrand, I was attracted to Nadcap because the nature of the work was similar, but more in-depth. I like the flexibility of developing my own schedule. I would recommend becoming a Nadcap auditor to anyone who is dedicated to the aerospace industry. It’s a rewarding experience working with a world-class aerospace organization that strives for competitive excellence. I enjoy the work and feel that PRI’s services are of enormous value to the aerospace industry. Working as a Nadcap auditor, I’m continually learning about new technology in my field, and it also allows me the opportunity to experience different cultures."

Creating quality people

Quality, however, isn’t just about processes and end product. People are also vital to optimal performance. In fact, it’s hard to imagine achieving continuous process improvement or a consistently conforming product without—as the saying goes—the right people, in the right place, at the right time. As the aerospace industry mirrors many others and expands globally, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain oversight of the supply base. The global relocation and growth of many organizations and their suppliers to countries with developing economies creates an opportunity for valuable cost-savings. However, that advantage is tempered by the risk that comes with employing workers without experience in the aerospace industry.

The industry as a whole is facing other personnel challenges. It’s widely reported that a global shortage exists of qualified, experienced personnel. As a result, PRI’s customers have asked the organization to look into developing a solution. In response, PRI Customer Solutions & Support has evolved professional development and certification services. eQuaLearn is a professional development program introduced by PRI in 2008 that offers quality-focused courses, developed with input from industry experts. Topics range from root-cause corrective action to AS9100 and "Introduction to Pyrometry." The objective is to equip aerospace industry personnel around the world with the on-the-job skills they will need to ensure the quality of the products and processes they create. More than 1,000 people participated in an eQuaLearn course last year, and 98 percent of the participants found the class they attended provided the information they needed; 97 percent believed that the course they attended was effective in helping them to acquire new skills.

eQuaLified is a professional certification program, the Nadcap of special-process personnel. The objective is to reduce variation and increase consistency within the aerospace workforce and its supply chain. In the same way that Nadcap accreditation enables procurement to easily judge the quality of a potential supplier, wherever in the world it’s located, eQuaLified helps recruitment to clearly determine an individual’s level of proficiency.

eQuaLified objectively characterizes the special processes, skills, and knowledge of aerospace personnel levels:

  • Process operator. Process operators understand and perform the basic hands-on operations of the special process.
  • Process planner. Process planners are capable of designing manufacturing processes and interpreting process procedures to conform to customer specifications and requirements. Process planners are capable of problem solving and resolving day-to-day issues.
  • Process owners. Process owners are capable of writing, reviewing, and approving processes, procedures, and qualifications of lower levels. Process owners are capable of designing new processes and resolving issues among all the other levels.


"Quality without compromise" is a big statement, and it may not be possible for all companies all of the time, but every step forward is a step in the right direction. Nadcap is dedicated to helping the aerospace industry maintain that direction.

Learn more at www.pri-network.org.


About The Author

Arshad Hafeez’s picture

Arshad Hafeez

Arshad Hafeez graduated with the bachelor of science degree in metallurgical engineering from Imperial College, University of London, and then completed a master of engineering in metallurgy from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He has been the recipient of various scholarships and awards which include the British Council Scholarship. He has authored and presented more than 100 papers at technical conferences. Hafeez is the current executive director of global business development and corporate strategies, research & development at the Performance Review Institute, which is used by more than 50 prime contractor and government agencies worldwide to manage more than 2,000 accredited suppliers.