To save time and money throughout the course of product development, quality professionals rely on first article inspection (FAI), which is a popular way to examine and test products in the early stages of production. FAI also helps them to guarantee that products are manufactured according to quality standards and pose no safety risks. This is particularly key in aerospace, automotive and medical industries.

Manufacturers within these fields commonly require the use of FAI inspections before production can begin, as they follow strict regulations to assure quality and safety.

Here’s a breakdown of how FAI works: Before mass producing a new product, the manufacturer produces a “first article,” or first product model. A quality professional then inspects it, comparing the dimensions of the newly made product with the dimensions specified in the product’s design. The FAI detects any problems in the manufacturing process so they can be corrected before manufacturing begins.


The technical data package

After manufacturing the first product, a business will not produce it en masse until it completes the FAI process, taking care to rule out any inconsistencies between the design and the finished product. The FAI helps quality and manufacturing engineers find and correct any design, manufacturing and safety issues before the producer enters mass production.

FAI can sometimes be a lengthy and meticulous process, especially for complex products with numerous dimensions. FAI software by DISCUS simplifies the process, reducing the time it takes to check measurements of the first article against the technical data package (TDP), such as written specifications, 3D models and drawings.

The TDP is the collection of product images and narrative documents that enable a production source to take an abstract design and convert it into a tangible product.

It is typically identified by a part number on the purchase order (PO). The PO will detect the related CAD model and/or drawing. The model or drawing will then refer to various specifications that define expected material properties and manufacturing processes. In addition, the PO, model, or drawing will often reference supplemental documents that define additional detailed requirements for the specific part.


Unnecessary duplication

To create company-specific plans as well as FAI documentation, manufacturing and quality engineers inspect all of the TDP documents, including drawings, models and specifications. They will identify and extract specific part characteristics and requirements contained in the TDP to create many of the downstream plans and documentation. Unfortunately, many manufacturers waste valuable time and money on what happens next.

Often, the evaluation of part features, characteristics, and requirements contained in the TDP is repeated on multiple occasions. For example, a cost estimator may identify critical features and characteristics during the quoting stage while responding to a request for quotation.

Once the order is accepted, a process planning engineer also analyzes the part to pinpoint features and characteristics for the creation of work instructions. The TDP is then passed to the CMM programmer who again scrutinizes the drawing notes to create the programs for the inspection software. The TDP is then shared with a quality engineer who examines the information, which is needed to create the documentation for the FAI.

Manufacturers are losing time and money by duplicating engineering efforts in the process described above, since such repetition in organizing and analyzing a TDP is inefficient and error prone.

The TDP is the common thread in many manufacturing and quality engineering undertakings. There are great advantages to organizing the TDP in an intelligent structure, which digitizes it for downstream functions.


The value of an intelligent TDP

An intelligent TDP allows a user at any level of the supply chain to further reduce the likelihood for errors, as well as to optimize productivity in downstream operations.

Manufacturers can save time and money by investing in software that manages a part’s TDP at the characteristic level. When using DISCUS software, for example, users see a 2D drawing or a 3D model and can rapidly find characteristics. This identification can then be used to produce downstream artifacts for manufacturing and quality assurance.

Software that is specifically designed so that engineers can organize the TDP and capture part characteristics works wonders. DISCUS has a panel for analyzing and extracting characteristics from the 2D drawing or 3D model, as well as from the specifications. It creates the list of part-specific characteristics and generates associated illustrations. The resulting Bill of Characteristics reduces the time and labor for manufacturing and quality engineering.

The FAI of one product can often require 24 hours engineers’ and another technical professionals’ time. But by organizing the many aspects of a first article inspection, DISCUS software can reduce the cost and time involved–and prevent errors along the way–helping companies bring their products to market sooner. DISCUS software can, in many cases, cut the length of the FAI process by 50 percent.