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In over 30 years working in aerospace, I’ve spent much of my career in quality assurance (QA), nondestructive test (NDT) method development and NDT method implementation. It has been a challenging and interesting field and I’ve been fortunate to work with many technically competent, highly motivated people who were committed to ensuring that all parts and structures for which they were responsible met the quality requirements imposed on them.
Unfortunately I’ve also worked with some people whose technical abilities were limited, whose principles were compromised, and who were satisfied with the appearance of quality, rather than the reality of it.
My blog, which will be posted the last week of every other month, will deal with issues of technical competence and ethics as they affect quality. It will address what is wrong with some quality organizations, how they have gone astray, and what the effect is of their failure to fulfill their responsibility.
QA serves as the policing agency of a company; it should ensure that engineering requirements are met. Generally, stress engineering and analysis determines inspection requirements and allowable defect sizes. Documents containing inspection requirements are typically written by M&P (materials and processes) engineering. It is the responsibility of QA to make sure that these requirements are met.
Fortunately, most people in quality take their responsibility very seriously, as they recognize that if stress requirements are not met, a critical part could fail. If a part on a space launch vehicle or rocket fails, it could result in the loss of a multi-billion dollar satellite. If a part on a commercial airliner fails, it could lead to loss of numerous lives.
As we all saw, a structural failure destroyed the Space Shuttle Columbia, and the U.S. lost a crew of astronauts and a precious resource of our space program. Whether the latter was the result of a quality problem is arguable, but it was attributed to a corporate culture of ignoring technical problems.
In some companies, QA does not receive the respect, authority and support it requires to fulfill its mission. Many large aerospace companies have lofty-sounding quality mission statements on their Web sites and corporate advertisements. Unfortunately, in spite of these statements, some of these companies do not take quality seriously.
Whenever I discuss such situations with experienced QA practitioners, they frequently provide their own horror stories. Some are amusing and some are tragic.
I encourage people to send me anecdotes of poor quality practices, as I will use them in this column. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions will be kept confidential and names of companies and individuals will not be used.
More on Quality to come.