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How does First Article Inspection fit into AS9100 Rev D?

There is a requirement within AS9100 Rev D that your aerospace quality management system (QMS) contains requirements to perform a process referred to as, “First Article Inspection” (FAI), but what is this and how is it done? In this article I will try to answer these two questions.

What is first article inspection in AS9100?

The requirements for FAI come as part of the requirements for production process verification (Clause First, this clause explains that you need to implement activities to verify your production processes (such as risk assessments, capacity studies, capability studies or control plans) in order to ensure that the production process will be able to produce products that meet requirements. The second paragraph explains one required verification process that is referred to as First Article Inspection (FAI).

For this particular verification activity, the organization performs a first production run, using all of the required production processes, documentation and tooling. This happens after all design activities are completed, so this is not a prototype model.  You then take a representative item from this production run and verify that all requirements are met. This is also intended to verify that the production processes, production documentation, and tooling that are in use can produce products that meet requirements.

This activity is intended to be repeated whenever major changes happen that would invalidate the results. These can include any major changes in the production processes, documentation or tooling. For further clarification on how to perform this activity, the document AS9102, Aerospace First Article Inspection Requirements, is referenced in Annex C & E of the standard.

For more on the standards that support AS9100 Rev D, see this article: How Does AS9101, AS9102 & AS9103 Relate to AS9100 Rev D?

How do you do first article inspections?

As has been clarified in the AS9100 Rev D standard, FAI is a production process verification activity; so all design activity must be completed before the FAI is performed. It is pointless to perform the FAI if there are still major design changes expected for the product or assembly. Once the design and development activity is completed, and you have determined all of the production requirements for producing the parts or assemblies, then follow these few steps to perform the FAI activity:

1) Perform a production run – This may sound simple, but it is possibly the biggest decision in the process. What is a production run? This will vary depending on the product you produce, including the complexity and quantity being considered. If you intend to produce 50 parts per day then this is relatively easy, do a day’s production; maybe more depending on agreements with your customer. However, if you are creating a product where you only produce 2 per week then you may need to build these 2 assemblies before proceeding with your FAI. Further, if you are only producing one unit for delivery to your customer, and all testing and measurement will be done on this one piece then, in effect, your production measurement and testing may be the FAI for this assembly. The best advice I can give is to make sure that you agree with your customer what production run is acceptable for your particular parts or assemblies.

2) Choose a part or assembly at random – The goal of FAI is to ensure that the processes, procedures and tooling of your production environment creates parts or assemblies that meet requirements. It is important that you do not try to choose the best product to perform the testing on. Choose a part at random and this will help to ensure that the production process is running correctly.

3) Measure, test and inspect the part or assembly – This is where the FAI can be very different from your regular production. FAI is intended to check every requirement of the design to ensure it is within the expected values. All dimensions that are needed are checked, every test to verify design requirements is done, and every inspection that is required of the part or assembly is performed. For your regular production run, this level of measurement, test and inspection may be reduced; for example, you might only measure key characteristics of a part. For the FAI, however, all measurements and inspections are performed.

4) Ensure adequate documented information is maintained – If you are going to all the trouble of performing the FAI, you will want to ensure you have adequate records to demonstrate that everything was acceptable. This is, in short, your one point of verification that all production processes will produce the results you want. If you ever have problems and need to revert back to a point in time, the FAI is that point in time. So, what is required for FAI documentation? In short, you need to identify everything that is necessary to know which part was used, the configuration of the production processes, the requirements being verified and the results of the verification.

First Article Inspection: Proving everything is correct

The point of first article inspection is to be able to prove that your entire production process, including everything you need to perform that process, will produce the required parts and assemblies. If there is ever a question that your production capabilities were acceptable, FAI is the one point you can return to and say, “Here, we proved it works”. This can also be a very important input to your corrective action process when you are trying to determine the root cause of a nonconformity in your production process. The FAI documentation gives you what you need to know to help determine what has changed and could have caused the problem. Use FAI well and it can become a great asset in the maintenance and improvement of your production processes.

Use this free AS9100 Rev D Implementation Diagram to learn in which phase to implement product verification.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.