Aerospace suppliers must meet the changing requirements by the end of this year.

Traveling to Mars takes time. Eight months, to be exact. After this long journey, NASA’s newest Mars rover is scheduled to land on the red planet the night of August 5, 2012. Now think about the Mars Curiosity rover in relation to the AS9100 standard. Though certification to a standard is a decidedly less awe-inspiring journey, it quietly affects real-life journeys, whether as simple as a safe summer vacation or as complex as a trip to outer space.

While next month may be significant on Mars, this month brings some aerospace updates. July 1, 2012, was a target for the AS9100:2009 standard. Revision C aims to bring the aerospace standard in line with the latest ISO9000 standard, and expands the standard into new industries

AS9100 Update

The standard has its fans, including Erik Valdemar Myhrberg, CEO and cofounder of Moorhill International Group Inc. (Stafford, VA) and author of “A Practical Field Guide for AS9100C” with Dawn Holly Crabtree and Rudolph Hacker. He writes, “To those of us who could see the wastes in the traditional ‘product realization’ system, the creation of AS9000, and subsequently AS9100 based on ISO9001, was by divine providence. Here was a QMS that focused on process control that is efficient and effective, not redundant inspection, and communicated the industry-specific needs of aerospace, such as first inspection and product traceability.”

And the standard continues to evolve. The Society of Automotive Engineers published the first international quality system aerospace industry standard in 1999. Ten years later, AS9100:2009 revision was created to address the ISO9001:2008 changes. It also gets grounded: the standard now includes land and sea based applications for defense.

July 1, 2012, was the original deadline to become certified to the AS9100 Revision C. However, the rules have changed.

The International Aerospace Quality Group (IAQG) kept the target date the same, but now all transition audits must be completed by July 1, 2012, or the certificate will be suspended until a Rev C certificate is issued. If companies do not complete the transition audit by January 1, 2013, they will be removed from the OASIS database, the Online Aerospace Supplier Information System, a directory listing certified suppliers.

Just as the reasons for getting certified vary, the consequences of not updating the certification vary by company. It depends on their customers. For those doing business with Boeing, an IAQG member company, for example, Tim Lee, one of Boeing’s IAQG Representatives and Chair of the IAQG Other Party Management Team (OPMT), explains it this way: “IAQG Member Companies, like Boeing, use evidence of AS9100 certification and the OASIS database to support their subtier supplier approval processes. Failure to maintain a valid certification may result in additional ramifications, as deemed appropriate, by the IAQG member company. Ramifications may include increased customer surveillance, source inspection, no new business and even removal from the approved supplier list.”

The OPMT expects that less than 5% of the current certified suppliers will not meet the July 1, 2012 target date.

So what is in the new AS9100? Changes revolve around risk management, project management, configuration management, and critical items and special requirements. In addition to the standard itself, the method of auditing has changed. Now, Lee says, the focus is on process performance, instead of only auditing for conformance, or identifying gaps instead of just issuing “speeding tickets.” The idea is to get more value out of the standard, and once the transition process is complete, IAQG plans to survey certified organizations to gage the effectiveness of the revised audit process.

Risky Business

The Boeings of the industry-as well as the small companies-want to make sure suppliers are performing and continually improving. Standards can help with this by implementing robust processes that focus on the identification and mitigation of risk.

Aerospace production is not without risk, and many companies have been dealing with this concept for decades. But the standard formalizes the process now.

Mark Stevens, president of SCB Training Center Inc. (Santa Fe Springs, CA), offers training on AS9100 and says risk analysis was a welcome addition for companies who have been in the industry for a while. Risk can mean both who you are dealing with in terms of customers as well as suppliers. The standard is open to interpretation on how far to take the risk analysis, experts say.

The Process

Making the customers happy will keep you in business, and the idea is that the standard will streamline this process. And it’s all about the process, say industry experts. But process control is not an easy concept, according to Myhrberg, who writes, “From working with and within aerospace primes, medium-size suppliers, job shops and software design, it has become apparent how little the concept of process control has caught on.” But, he continues, “We readily see how businesses could avoid long-term costs of redundant non-value-adding tasks like inspections, scrap, rework and customer returns by following the requirements of AS9100 using proven quality tools.”

Improvement in all of these tasks means focusing on what the customer wants.

“I think the main focus is that the quality management program they put in place does satisfy what the aviation industry is looking for,” says Kent Schiete, QRS lead auditor and aerospace program manager at TUV Rheinland of North America Inc. (Boxborough, MA). “Focus on a process based approach for monitoring themselves, recognize customer requirements and customer satisfaction.”

Aaron Troschinetz, operations manager/technical manager, aerospace of QMI-SAI Global (Independence, OH), emphasizes that the focus should be equally performance and conformance. He says that companies should set targets and then measure their process effectiveness: “Putting the standard aside for a moment, organizations can gain a lot by understanding their processes first (including process effectiveness) and then looking for remaining areas or gaps with the AS91XX:2009 standards.”

Shannon Craddock, programs and accreditations manager of Perry Johnson Registrars, Inc. (Troy, MI), says that companies should have processes that work for them. For example, a staff member in charge of purchasing would measure how the process worked. Did they meet the goal of a 24-hour turnaround time? Do they track data to see if these goals are met? And if the targets are not met, what is done about it?

Using the Standard

How to get the most out of the standard? Though this is not always clear-cut, creating a Potemkin village is not the answer. The standard should actually be used, and not just as a front for the real quality system.

“The age-old question is how to make the quality system work for them,” says Sidney Vianna, North America director, aviation, space and defense services at DNV Business Assurance (Houston) and secretary of the Americas Aerospace Quality Group. “I’ve been in this business for a long time. A lot of organizations struggle with implementing the standards AS9100 or ISO9001, and one of the major reasons for the struggle is that a quality management system really affects the whole organization.”

Not only does it affect the entire organization, but it should do so on a daily basis. The system should be maintained. “Certification is so in-depth. They have to make sure things being followed or won’t get certified. If you’re going to pass every year, you can’t wait to maintain it,” says Dave Barile, president of Barile Consulting Services LLC (Cleveland). “It’s not going to happen.”

For example, consider a company that wants to expand into the aerospace sector and receive an AS9100:2009 certification. Though only a small sector of their business may require the standard, it makes the most sense for the entire business to adopt the AS9100 quality management system. Still, Schiete has seen companies try to approach AS9100 in small sections. “It’s not something that you would strap on to an existing quality system. You need to understand that the standard needs to be throughout your quality system and not just an appendage,” Schiete says. “You really need to integrate it in. You can try to appendage something on, but that spawns a lot of different documentation and retaining. Your workforce can’t move easily between different areas of your organization, and it gets very awkward if you’re not embracing the entire quality activity of AS9100.”

One aspect of the quality system is documentation, something that companies may not be excited about. But documenting the system provides a trail of accountability, and the very act of keeping records can be helpful. It provides a valuable way to track problems and discover how to prevent them. “Companies don’t want more paperwork,” Barile says, “but they also don’t want quality issues. The paperwork to an extent is a big benefit.”

The Future

Though some companies have decided to drop the certification because of cost, most seem to see it as the cost of keeping up with the industry. Just as ISO mushroomed from automotive applications to many others, Barile predicts that AS9100 will continue to grow.

Aerospace applications do not leave much room for error. “If the engine shuts down, it’s not like your car where you can coast to a stop,” says Chris Miller, operations director at Eagle Registrations (Dayton, OH). “At thirty-thousand feet, you would be coming down.” Attention to quality is critical in these applications, and this mission isn’t possible without a group of people involved. The supply chain is made up of companies both large and small, and affects industries throughout our solar system.

“Ultimately we’re in business to satisfy the customer,” Myhrberg says. “It sounds trite, but that’s the end user. The end user getting on an airplane to fly home at Christmas or the astronaut sitting on the shuttle who would like to come home in one piece.”

Tech Tips

Identify your key processes.

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