AS9100 Knowledge base

Corrective actions vs. continual improvement in AS9100

Using the requirements of the AS9100 Rev D standard can help to ensure that you do not miss any important elements while implementing your aerospace Quality Management System (QMS); however, sometimes the requirements of the standard can seem confusing and some requirements seem so closely related that it is difficult to tell them apart. One distinction that many have trouble with is the difference between corrective action and continual improvement – both are very important within your Quality Management System, but each has a different role to fulfill in making your QMS work. So, what is the difference?

What is corrective action, and how is it used?

Corrective action is addressed in clause 10.2 of the AS9100 Rev D standard. In this clause, the process for corrective action is detailed after a nonconformity has occurred in the QMS and the company has evaluated that there is a need to eliminate the cause so that it does not recur. This is done by reviewing the nonconformity to find the cause, implementing actions needed to correct the root cause, reviewing that the corrective actions were effective, and making any necessary updates to risks and the QMS. This may include flow down to an external provider if the root cause initiates with them.

So, corrective action is used when a problem has occurred that you determine needs to have the root cause corrected. One example of this could be if you found that your purchasing process had five errors during a six-month period where the wrong product was delivered than was needed. A root cause investigation could find that part of the process included transcribing a part number from one computer system into another to place the order, which occasionally resulted in transposed numbers and the wrong part order taking place. By taking action to ensure this transcription error does not take place, you would be taking corrective action for the nonconformity.

What is continual improvement, and how does it fit into the QMS?

By comparison, continual improvement is finding ways to make the QMS more suitable, adequate, and effective in a planned and incremental way; this is outlined in clause 10.3. You would identify where you would like to make your QMS better, define a target for improving that process, and then make a plan and assign resources to make this improvement happen. The quality objectives that you set for your organization, and your plans to achieve them, are one important example of continual improvement activity.

For instance, say you found that your purchasing process was taking 15 days on average from the time that a need was discovered to the time that an order was placed with an external provider. By reviewing the process and taking actions to improve the flow of information and remove unnecessary activities, you might be able to reduce this time to 12 days – an example of an improvement activity. In general, your improvement activities associated with your quality objectives would often be much broader than this example, such as reducing delivery time, which could affect processes across the entire organization.

Use both processes wisely to make your QMS better

So, both corrective action and continual improvement are there to make your QMS and the processes that it includes better, but what is the big difference? The big difference is that a nonconformity need not have occurred for continual improvement to happen – someone just needs to decide that a certain element of the QMS needs to get better. In both cases, you are finding improvements in your QMS, but if you think about it, continual improvement is preferred since you don’t need to wait for a problem to occur that could affect your customers and interested parties; you fix the problem before it happens.

Both corrective action and continual improvement are included in the AS9100 standard, because both are important elements that are there to make your QMS better, and improvement is one of the main reasons for implementing a Quality Management System in the first place. Use these processes wisely, and you can get the improvement benefits you want from your QMS. You owe it to yourself.

To learn more about the steps required when implementing AS9100 Rev D in your organization, check out this downloadable Diagram of AS9100 Rev D Implementation process.

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.