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by Sidney Vianna

Few people pay attention to the forewords of international standards. If they did, they might be surprised by what they learn. For example, the foreword of AS9100 Revision B states, “The establishment of common requirements, for use at all levels of the supply chain, by organizations around the world, should result in improved quality and safety and decreased costs, due to the elimination or reduction of organization-unique requirements and the resultant variation inherent in these multiple expectations.”

Who would have thought that an international quality standard would promote cost reduction? For many, this seems an oxymoron. Yet, for organizations that have implemented AS9100 and related standards, the statement represents the simple truth.

The high cost of variation

Quality improvement and cost reduction in the aerospace industry is a unique concept. It started with the vision of a few quality leaders who recognized the benefits of developing internationally accepted quality management system standards.

Fortunately for us, they realized the potentially huge benefit of harmonizing system requirements for aerospace suppliers.

For example, AS9100 reduces costs and improves quality by eliminating multiple variations of the same requirements.

For decades, aerospace suppliers were inundated with customer-specific requirements that often demanded slightly different ways of accomplishing the same task. Because AS9100 harmonized these requirements worldwide, suppliers can now focus on developing a single quality management system acceptable to all their customers--and thereby reduce waste and redundant effort.

Another potential cost-saving benefit bestowed by AS9100 is the industry’s increased reliance on accredited certificates issued by specifically approved registrars. Redundant and inconsistent customer audits have always been a source of complaints for aerospace suppliers. Some undergo more than 50 customer audits a year--basically one audit per week. Suppliers have employees who do nothing but coordinate and facilitate customer audits. Any company that’s experienced such a heavy auditing schedule knows that repeated QMS audits disrupt day-to-day activity and hamper efficiency. Imagine, for example, your supplier quality assurance engineers spending four hours per week answering auditors’ questions about supplier performance monitoring. This alone represents 10 percent of a weekly workload.

However, if customers can rely on certificates issued by independent, accredited and competent registration bodies attesting to the supplier’s AS9100-compliant system, they can focus their time and resources on product- and process-specific assessments instead.

The ICOP process

These improvements to the cumbersome supplier-OEM relationship presented a cost in terms of a change in thinking. In order for aerospace OEMs, primes and regulatory authorities to have confidence in the certificates and accept them as a component of the supplier oversight process, the industry had to enhance existing mechanisms of registrar and auditor competence and performance monitoring. Instead of relying on a typical third-party process, an Industry Controlled Other Party process was developed.

Under the ICOP process, registrars still apply for accreditation through organizations such as ANSI-RAB NAP, INMETRO, SCC, COFRAC, UKAS and others. However, the accreditation bodies themselves are subject to approval and monitoring by aerospace representatives. Further, the registrars are subject to joint (i.e., accreditation body/OEM) oversight; office visits and audit witnessing are two common mechanisms used to verify the registration process’s integrity.

Due to the particular requirements for auditor competence and registrar qualifications, a sector-specific document--SAE AIR 5359, presently in Revision B--was created to outline the additional requirements. Registrars and auditors are measured against the requirements contained therein before being granted approval to issue AS9100 certificates. Subscribers at all levels of this process also agree to provide right-of-access to regulatory agencies such as the FAA and JAA for their oversight.

Presently, nine accreditation bodies are approved for AS9100:

ANSI-RAB NAP (United States)

INMETRO (Brazil)

SCC (Canada)

UKAS (United Kingdom)

COFRAC (France)

ENAC (Spain)

SINCERT (Italy)

TGA (Germany)

JAB (Japan)

In the Americas, 32 registrars are approved for AS9100. They are listed in the table below.

As proof that these oversight efforts aren’t simply an exercise in rubber-stamping, some registrars have had their AS9100 accreditation temporarily suspended. The aerospace industry is serious about ensuring that integrity is maintained in the registration process, which in turn should provide much-needed confidence to all stakeholders, especially in regulated sectors.

In addition to the process described above, some OEMs are going further.

The Boeing Co., for example, performs certificate validation audits during which Boeing auditors visit AS9100-registered suppliers to ensure that their systems deserve registration.

Three sectors, one voice

Much effort has been made to ensure that AS9100 requirements are accepted and adopted not only by U.S. aerospace OEMs and primes but also by their counterparts in Europe, South America and Asia.

In order to accomplish this, three aerospace sectors were created around the world to allow the industry to speak with a single voice to its global supplier base: the Americas Aerospace Quality Group, the European Aerospace Quality Group and the Asia Pacific Aerospace Quality Group. Together, these sector schemes compose the International Aerospace Quality Group. Each group determines the standards bodies responsible for controlling their respective documents. In the Americas, SAE performs this task; in Europe, it’s the AECMA; and in Asia Pacific, SJAC maintains the documents.

For more information about the IAQG and AAQG, visit the organizations’ respective Web sites at www.iaqg.org and www.sae.org/aaqg.

Companion standards

During the process of developing AS9100, quality professionals realized that the sectors would benefit from a number of additional documents. Many of these have been harmonized, meaning all three sectors have agreed to make their standards identical. A few documents pertain to a single sector; to differentiate these, documents designated as “91xx” represent those that are harmonized, whereas standards designated as “90xx” aren’t adopted universally. For example, SAE AS9100 contains exactly the same requirements as AECMA EN9100 and SJAC 9100. On the other hand, AS9003 doesn’t have an equivalent document in Europe or Asia Pacific.

Noteworthy documents in the AS family of standards include:

AS9101--An assessment checklist and reporting template to capture the results of the assessments performed to the AS9100 standard

AS9003--A system for noncomplex aerospace suppliers that focuses on inspection and test systems

AS9102--An industry-harmonized document about performing and reporting on first-article inspections

AS9103--Assists organizations interested in variation management of key characteristics

AS9110--Details the quality system requirements for organizations involved in repairing and overhauling aerospace parts

AS9111--An assessment checklist and reporting template to capture the results of the assessments performed to the AS9110 standard

AS9120--Quality Management Systems--Lists aerospace requirements for stocklist distributors

AS9121--An assessment checklist and reporting template to capture the results of the assessments performed to the AS9120 standard

Other documents have either just been released or remain in the deliberation process. These include AS9006 and AS9108, which deal with deliverable software and statistical product acceptance requirements, respectively.

OASIS database

AS9100 continues to inspire cost-reducing quality improvements, not only to organizations registered to the standard but also to aerospace regulations in general. To keep abreast of developments, industry players can access the Online Aerospace Supplier Information System, the official database of up-to-date information. Among other information, it lists approved accreditation bodies, registration bodies, aerospace-experienced auditors and, finally, the registered suppliers that have already attained accredited registration. As of early May, more than 1,000 suppliers were listed in the OASIS database, as seen online at www.iaqg.org/oasis.

About the author

Sidney Vianna is the western district manager for DNV Certification, one of the world’s leading registrars. He’s responsible for business development and customer interface as well as supervising a team of 19 lead assessors in the Western United States. Vianna is an IRCA QMS 2000-certified lead assessor and has been involved with management system registration since 1988. Vianna represents DNV in AAQG meetings. A longstanding member of ASQ, he’s been a past programs chair for the Orange Empire Section. He recently reinstated the Los Angeles ISO Users Group.