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Quality Components in Aerospace Parts Manufacturing

Joshua earned an MBA from USF and writes mostly about software and technology.

An airplane with a view of one of the engines.

An airplane with a view of one of the engines.

Quality in Aerospace Within the U.S.

If you've ever worked in aerospace or a related field you know the high standards that these types of companies must diligently meet. Airplane flights are still considered one of the safest means of travel as a result of strict regulations imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Even with high regulation in this industry, airplane failures cannot be completely avoided. In 2010 in the U.S., 1,331 planes were involved in crashes. Not all incidents in this statistic were a direct result of a specific part malfunction. There are other elements like the weather, the skill of the pilot, and how the aircraft was assembled that could have contributed to airplane failures. Let's just say it's better to keep crashes to a minimum for the fact that life is precious. When there is a faulty part and the result was a crash, consequences are fierce. These results usually end up in huge lawsuits.

While working in aerospace manufacturing, I observed and even participated in quality activities relating to internal and external quality failures, quality assurance, and prevention. All accumulated costs associated with these items were considered normal, except for external failure costs. With a six-sigma agenda, there is no room for failure. My employer used a vast amount of the quality techniques associated with six-sigma, ISO 9001, and lean manufacturing. Just to be clear, this organization was not a builder of aircraft, they were a supplier of pre-assembled parts. Parts included airplane safety equipment, water tanks, water valves, hydraulic valves, and many more items.

External Parts Diagram of an Airplane

This diagram shows an overhead view of the exterior parts of a jet.

This diagram shows an overhead view of the exterior parts of a jet.

Quality Assurance Costs

To keep the quality of manufacturing up to par, my former employer had plenty of quality assurance costs associated with running the business. The development of aerospace parts takes a great deal of time, patience, and among other things precautionary tactics.

During production, there were plenty of people surrounding each value stream who complete quality assurance activities. These individuals or Quality Assurance (QA) had to hold an internal certification to engage in such activities. It was tough to get certified because of the heavy training that was involved. Activities that were associated with these certified QA employees took away from production and included in-process inspections, tracking and reporting measurement comparisons to product specifications, and assuring damaged material requisitions.

There were also special assignments where "audit groups" would convene to conduct an internal audit for a department. These internal audits were scheduled for every value stream in the company. The higher the frequency of mistakes the more the audits would occur.

Due to the adherence to ISO 9001 standards, a large part of assurance costs in this company comes from administering a quality management system (QMS). One person from each division of quality assists the QMS manager in making updates to the QMS. The upkeep of the QMS takes a lot of time to update the vast number of documents stored on it. Essentially the QMS is run on the company intranet. The software displays web pages that display quality, safety, and business process data. You will find anything on the system from work instructions, controlled documents, and forms used directly in the quality assurance process. Every individual in the company is linked to the system somehow.

Another aspect of quality assurance that was imperative was the administering of all the measuring tools used to check the dimensions of product components. During most of the assembly processes, measurements need to be made to match against measurements in technical drawings. There were plenty of types of measurements that were taken. I lumped them into 3 categories length measurements, electrical test measurements, and machined dimension measurements. Length measurements were made with a steel ruler or with the use of an automatic cutting machine. The rulers were calibrated in the lab periodically, but the machines needed to be calibrated annually by the machines' manufacturer. Wire and shrink tubes are examples of a few materials that were cut on these machines.

The electrical measurements were made by amperage meters and dielectric meters and any timers used in the production process. These electrical devices also required calibration services from outside parties. It was the job of one person to purchase and certify all the measuring equipment in a temperature-controlled lab. The person in this role managed over 1000 different tools at once. At the beginning of each shift, any person using these instruments would have to check the certification dates per company policy.

Electrical Testing Equipment

This dielectric tester is a popular testing device for electronic equipment in aerospace. It can give multiple readings including readings for a high-pot test.

This dielectric tester is a popular testing device for electronic equipment in aerospace. It can give multiple readings including readings for a high-pot test.

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Internal Failure Cost

As for internal failure costs, this company has a lot. This is not to say that their manufacturing is not up to par. Most items that have any quality defects are rejected before they would leave the building for good cause.

Internal failures could be considered defective inventory that is received and failed by quality control who must inspect before the inventory can be added to the ERP system. When products advance through the system of work in progress, not only did quality assurance reject work-in-progress inventory during in-process inspections, but if you did not feel comfortable with the quality of the previous process as an assembly worker you had the responsibility to consider sending the product back to the previous process. Rework would have to be completed because of the physical or operational aspects of the product.

When parts needed to be returned to the supplier there were tons of shipping costs and piles of paper to be completed. Each part that was ordered was already pre-specified for an order due to lean manufacturing requirements, so it was a lot better when they were able to find supplier defects earlier in the process so returns could be made immediately. Finding these defects was not always easy due to random sampling during receiving. When too many defects from a supplier are found, sampling is then increased for those problem suppliers or suppliers are replaced.

Plane Landing at Tampa International Airport

Millions of people fly daily without knowing how much effort was put into the quality of the aircraft that they took off in. With an inspection process so rigorous you wonder how the suppliers of the part or airlines make any money.

Millions of people fly daily without knowing how much effort was put into the quality of the aircraft that they took off in. With an inspection process so rigorous you wonder how the suppliers of the part or airlines make any money.

External Failure Costs

This employer as I noted before, is a six-sigma company. Some external failures seemed so ridiculous, but in aerospace, the customer requirement needs to be implemented into products exactly as prescribed. These external failure costs were avoided as much as possible due to following six-sigma quality standards. If rejection did occur, the product would have to go through the same quality assurance system again.

In addition, engineers, quality managers, the supervisor, and the production manager of the line would all be involved in creating reports for the incident. They would also have to explain the incident at a meeting with upper management. Depending on the product, external failure costs for one product could cost thousands of dollars.

Prevention Costs

Prevention costs were consistent. Most employees were trained in quality, continuous improvement, lean production, and blueprint reading. At least 3 hours a month of training was typical for any employee in production. Committees were set up specifically to discuss continuous improvement, lean production, and safety all with the intention of keeping quality and other related costs to a minimum.

Some activities that may be considered assurance costs but may be considered prevention costs are peer audits and internal audits. The audits were mainly conducted to prepare employees in the case that an ISO audit or customer audit would occur. These audits were completed to make sure production lines were following work instructions to build the product exactly to print, but also to check the organization of processes. Internal audits consisted of a group of diversely selected employees. These internal auditors were given a check sheet to go through and try to spot issues throughout the whole production process.

The ISO 9001 requirement is a QMS that companies use to help them consistently provide quality products and services that meet high standards.

The ISO 9001 requirement is a QMS that companies use to help them consistently provide quality products and services that meet high standards.

After seeing how many obstacles one aerospace parts manufacturer goes through, it's no wonder a round trip from LAX to NYC can cost upwards of $900! Each supplier of each part that an aircraft uses for assembly has similar manufacturing techniques as described above.

Whether you are experienced in production, management, or even quality, I would recommend a career in this sector. It could be a very challenging and rewarding experience.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Joshua Crowder

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