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by Roger Ritterbeck

Two significant factors forced the aerospace industry to look seriously at quality management systems. One was the need to improve quality throughout the supply chain. The second was the need to reduce cost. These may seem like fairly stand--ard motivators, but in the aerospace industry, where extremely complex products and mountains of regulatory requirements are common, these often seem like insurmountable hurdles.

Realizing the need for standardization, the industry formed the International Aerospace Quality Group, which is comprised of representatives from North and South America, Asia-Pacific and Europe. The group's mission is to review current practices and develop a uniform quality management system standard that is acceptable throughout the industry.

Standards proliferation
One factor driving up cost was a proliferation of standards and, usually, the question of which ones applied. In addition to a number of quality system requirements such as MIL-Q-9858, ISO 9001, AQAP-1 and NASA, many aerospace original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) imposed company-specific requirements. Suppliers were then responsible for meeting a number of requirements, which in many cases were contradictory. Aerospace OEMs conducted quality audits at these supplier sites, consuming a vast amount of resources at both the customer and supplier levels.

To develop a uniform aerospace quality management system standard, diverse requirements were considered. The new standard had to encompass regulatory requirements, give the customer (i.e., the aerospace OEM) full control, ensure product integrity and drive continual improvement. The standard also had to incorporate aerospace-specific requirements necessary throughout the supply chain.

Through a series of committee meetings and task groups, the international association began developing a quality management system standard that would address the global needs of the aerospace community.

AS9100 is launched
During the course of a few years and many meetings, association efforts resulted in the standard known as AS9100, "Quality Management Systems--Aerospace--Requirements." It's published in the Americas sector by the Society of Automotive Engineers. For the standard to gain international acceptance, however, it had to be harmonized on a global scale. In Europe, the technical equivalent to AS9100 is EN9100, which is published by the Association Européenne des Constructeurs de Matériel Aérospatial (AECMA). In the Asia-Pacific region, the technical equivalent is JIS Q 9100, published by the Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies.

Based on ISO 9001, AS9100 includes additional aerospace-specific requirements, which are identified within the body of the standard in bold, italic print. This enables organizations to easily identify where core aerospace requirements exist within ISO 9001.

Quality improvement was a key factor influencing the industry to look at quality management systems. Additional requirements focus on ISO 9001, section 7, "Product Realization." AS9100 requires control of "key characteristics" when identified either internally or by a customer. Key characteristics are features of a part, process or material where variation can significantly affect product performance or service life. Guidance on variation management of key characteristics can be found in AS9103, an aerospace standard developed by the IAQG that focuses solely on variation management. AS9103 isn't a requirement of AS9100 but might be imposed by customers as a requirement.

Production of aerospace product is often complex. AS9100 addresses several requirements focusing on production control. In section 7.5, "Production and Service Provision," production-related requirements are addressed. This section includes additional requirements unique to the aerospace industry, such as part accountability, foreign-object detection, production documentation, production-control process changes, tooling, part identification and traceability. These critical elements help ensure aerospace products are manufactured in accordance with approved data, controlled during manufacture and, where necessary, provide traceability back to the raw materials from which they were produced.

Organizations implementing AS9100 should review their current manufacturing controls to ensure that their documented system addresses section 7.5 requirements. Two additional procedural requirements exist within this section. One requires procedures to control change implementation that affects production processes. The second requires that tooling be validated, maintained and inspected according to documented procedures. Overlooking these requirements during implementation might prolong the complete implementation of an AS9100 system.

Supply-chain quality
Each level of the supply chain significantly affects quality, and to compound this challenge, regulatory bodies have tasked the aerospace industry to improve quality at all levels. To comply, the aerospace industry identified specific controls to be placed on suppliers when they utilize subtier suppliers. Section 7.4 covers purchasing requirements and is broken down into the following sections:

Purchasing process

Purchasing information

Verification of purchased product


Each section includes unique aerospace requirements.
The purchasing process focuses on supplier approval and on how organizations review supplier performance and use these reviews to determine the level of control to be placed on suppliers. Many organizations fall short in this category. Once they approve a supplier, they continue to use it without a systematic means of rating its performance. Organizations must establish supplier metrics and emphasize the need for continual improvement from their suppliers.

Purchasing information relates to the flowdown of requirements to subtier suppliers. Flowdowns must include related customer requirements, technical specifications and quality system requirements. They must also provide a right of access to the customer and/or regulatory authorities.

Verification of purchased product requires that organizations ensure that all purchase order flowdowns are met. This includes data integrity of any test reports or certifications used to accept product. Many organizations fall short in this requirement. Typically, when organizations receive test reports or certificates, they file them away as records of receipt. Organizations must understand that when using test reports or certificates as a means of acceptance, they must verify data within those documents against the required specification.

Design control and configuration management
Modern commercial airliners use approximately three million different part numbers. Aircraft manufacturers outsource much of the design work for lower-level parts and subsystems. Systems had to be established for controlling design activity and identifying product configuration.

The design section of AS9100 includes additional requirements from the design planning stage through verification and validation. Specific controls ensure that an organization's design system is robust enough that the final design output conforms to all safety and functional objectives as well as regulatory requirements.

Once a design is approved, the product becomes part of the configuration control process. Configuration controls are called out through the design section, but the requirements for configuration management are specifically referenced in section 4.3 of AS9100.

An organization must establish, document and maintain a configuration management process, guidance for which is given in ISO 10007. Configuration management is a discipline that applies technical and administrative direction to the development, production and support life cycle of a configuration item. This discipline applies to hardware, software, processed materials, services and related technical documentation.

Continual improvement in the aerospace industry
Product quality, safety and reliability take priority in the aerospace industry--for obvious reasons. In today's economic climate, however, aerospace companies can't continue with business as usual. A major impetus for driving improvement is the need to reduce cost. Organizations must continue to produce safe and reliable products, but to survive they must adopt a continual improvement mentality.

The AS9100 quality management system provides an organization with a platform for continual improvement. ISO 9001-compliant organizations must continually improve processes and customer satisfaction. Aerospace organizations typically manufacture product in low volume so, in the past, they've only had to concern themselves with product quality. Now organizations must look at issues such as process flow, cycle time, setup time and other indicators to evaluate process effectiveness. Once key processes are identified and objectives established, organizations must monitor those processes and identify where improvements should be made.

Top management must be fully committed to continual improvement. Through effective reviews, management can make data-based decisions on where to allocate resources to achieve continual improvement. Once objectives are met, organizations should raise the bar to continually increase the improvement level.

Aerospace organizations have just begun to adopt improvement tools such as lean, kaizen, Six Sigma and 5S workplace optimization. These present an opportunity to drive out waste through defined methodologies and fulfill AS9100's continual improvement requirements. The result will be improved, streamlined processes as well as reduced cost.

Quality and continual improvement in practice
At Boeing Canada Technology, Winnipeg Division, continual improvement goes hand-in-hand with quality. BCTW is one of the largest aerospace composite manufacturers in Canada and is on the leading edge of technology in the composites industry.

BCTW produces nearly 1,000 end-item composite parts and assemblies for Boeing commercial airplanes, specifically for the 737, 747, 767 and 777 models. Major products include wing-to-body fairings, engine strut forward fairings, engine strut aft fairings, landing gear doors and thrust reverser blocker doors. BCTW, a tier one partner on the new 787 program, will design and manufacture the wing-to-body fairings, main landing gear door, engine strut forward and aft fairings for the program's life cycle. The composite processing and assembly centers, quality and manufacturing support are vertically integrated into product lines.

Management commitment is evident at BCTW and is based on a three-tenet philosophy: management by policy integrated with cross-functional management and daily management. This philosophy cascades through the organization via a performance management system.

Realizing a need to position the or--ganization among the world's aerospace leaders, BCTW chose to pursue AS9100 registration. BCTW chose Quality Management Institute, a division of CSA Group, as its partner in registration. Specific auditors with aerospace experience were handpicked for the BCTW registration process.

Real process improvement
After recognizing that the AS9100 standard was based on processes instead of the old "20 elements" list found in ISO 9001, and realizing the need for internal improvement, BCTW took the opportunity to make real process improvements while going through the registration process. "We identified 18 core processes associated with delivering product to our customers and performed a type of value-stream mapping to identify standard work activities within each process," says Ian Hogg. BCTW's quality assurance manager. "As we identified the inputs and outputs, we also tried to incorporate some lean activities to streamline processes and drive out waste." BCTW reduced process documents and nonvalue-adding work activities by 50 percent.

To effectively monitor processes, quality objectives must be established and reviewed periodically. AS9100 requires objectives be set by top management and then deployed throughout the organization at relevant functions and levels. At BCTW, quality objectives, defined as part of the business plan, are deployed throughout the company. "We identify and measure continual improvements through our daily management of our corporate goals--quality, cost, delivery, safety and morale (QCDSM), all of which relate to one or more of our core processes," says Hogg. "From these business process meas-urements, we will then determine if we're providing the required information that's important to our customer."

Internal audits for improved performance
For organizations embracing continual improvement, internal audits are an integral tool. They serve as another measure of process effectiveness and validate that the organization has the proper objectives and metrics in place at the process level. "The focus of our internal audits has changed since implementing AS9100," says Tom Chisholm, quality audit specialist at BCTW. "Our internal audit process is now more focused on a process-based approach and less on compliance to a requirements-based approach."

By going through the stages of AS9100 implementation, BCTW has changed its culture through a top-down management commitment. The result is a lean organization with a customer focus driven to continually strive for improvement. Results of QCDSM, reviewed on an ongoing basis, serve as a platform for identifying where further improvements can be made. BCTW achieved AS9100 registration in July 2004 and is even more aggressive toward continual improvement than when the process started.

Moving ahead
There's no doubt that the aerospace industry has faced significant challenges. Factors such as 9/11, the economy and increased competition have forced the industry to take a serious look at past practices and make monumental improvements. Now that the aerospace industry climate is improving, air traffic is returning to pre-9/11 levels and new aircraft are hitting the market, the industry must be able to sustain its improvements while continuing to address the two factors, cost and quality, that originally drove the need for a stand-ardized quality management system.

AS9100 provides the industry with a standardized set of requirements to help improve quality throughout the supply chain and reduce cost through continual improvement. In the early days of ISO 9001, registration was viewed as a competitive advantage. In today's aerospace climate, not having AS9100 registration is simply a competitive disadvantage.

About the author
Roger Ritterbeck Jr. is the aerospace product manager at QMI, where he has worked since 1998. Prior to joining QMI, he worked for a major aerospace manufacturer in various quality management roles. Contact him at (800) 247-0802.