Creativity is a necessity when you own or work in a product-based company. To keep the public engaged and excited to purchase the merchandise they love — or you want them to buy — manufacturers must constantly think outside the box to make foods, machinery, equipment and mobile devices better or more refined than their past iterations.
But quality assurance that the newest item or redesigned model will work as intended before the mass production process is just as important to creativity. The results from a comprehensive First Article Inspection report help to provide the all-important quality assurance you and your customers want.
What is First Article Inspection?
More colloquially referred to as FAI, First Article Inspection is a formalized quality control process used primarily in the manufacturing industry to validate the design specifications of a newly produced product. Through this special process, the initial unit or batch is thoroughly inspected and examined to corroborate that specifications are in accordance with industry standards, the customer or regulatory agencies.
How many new products are introduced in the average year?
In the typical year, approximately 30,000 new products are rolled out to consumers, according to Nielsen IQ. Depending on their size, that’s enough to fill all of the shelves, freezers and display areas within a traditional supermarket. But before many of these items are available for purchase, they go through the First Article Inspection process.
What industries or subsectors rely on FAI?
Aerospace. Defense. Consumer goods. Automotive. Health care. Technology. Public transportation. These are just a few of the manufacturing subsectors in which First Article Inspection is routinely performed. In addition to FAI inspection verifying that products match specified design requirements — thereby assuring that they’ll meet expectations from the buyer or user — FAI is also important for safety. In 2021, more than 11.7 million serious injuries in the U.S. were linked to manufactured products, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, up nearly 7% from the record low recorded in 2020 (10.9 million).
First Article Inspection doesn’t guarantee that people will avoid injury by using or interacting with a product they’ve purchased, but it can help manufacturing entities achieve compliance and reduce the likelihood of injury when items are used as directed.
What is included in a First Article Inspection report?
Manufacturing organizations can receive confirmation about the safety of their products within a First Article Inspection report (FAIR). Varying in length, a FAIR comprehensively summarizes the results and findings from the inspection process and any next steps. Included in the FAI report is information on the product’s identification, its specifications (i.e. measurements, parts, dimensions, etc.), engineering drawing(s) as well as the results of the inspection. The tests performed are also listed within a First Article Inspection report.
Additionally, an FAI report identifies discrepancies or non-conformities discovered that veer from the desired or required specification(s). This is the most important aspect of the document because it outlines where things went wrong and what needs to be done to remedy the issue so a production run can begin or resume.
That’s a general overview of what’s included in a FAIR. Now let’s explore it in more detail.
Are FAI reports put together in the same way?
The short answer is no. Just as there are millions of products, the content and composition of a FAIR can vary substantially, some being only a few pages long to others much more voluminous. For example, in industries like aerospace, automotive or defense — where specific types of equipment and machinery must conform to specific lengths or depths to be safe or work as intended — FAI reports can be exhaustive. The documents may include some or all of the following:
Part number and revision level: This form specifies the part number, revision level and any other relevant information pertaining to the identification of the product in question.
Drawing and specification review: This form includes a comprehensive review of the engineering drawings and specifications of the product to ensure that it meets all of the appropriate industry standards.
Inspection results: This is usually the most exhaustive section of the first article report. Here, the findings of the inspection are discussed and tests are performed. The tests run may be related to the product’s dimensions, the materials used, its finish or to assure that the part or product has all of the necessary labelings in place pertaining to the intended use.
Material certifications: In this section, the certification of materials used is listed and elaborated on, if necessary. These may include raw materials, coatings, parts, and any other constituent or components referenced in engineering drawings.
Non-conformance: Having the potential to be minimal (or substantial), non-conformance calls out any discrepancies that are discovered during inspection and testing. It also provides recommendations for what actions ought to be taken to reach compliance or align with necessary specification requirements.
Corrective action: If it isn’t included within non-conformance, it’s detailed in this section of the FAI report. A plan of action for remedying the issue is laid out here, complete with an action plan, timeline and who is responsible for addressing each non-conformance detected during inspection.
Final approval: The final approval form substantiates that the inspection has been conducted and the corrective actions were completed, with the presiding regulatory body agency or authority signing off.
There are some FAI report forms that are specific to certain industries and have to be included within them for the report to be considered complete. Using aerospace as an example again, a few of the required forms include:
Part number accountability: This form contains information identifying the part being examined during the inspection process as well as any additional assemblies related to the primary products part or parts.
Product accountability: There are always benchmarks that a product needs to reach for it to be approved for use. Those are detailed in this section. In addition to the necessary specifications, the product accountability form also enumerates the materials, processes and functional tests that are deemed necessary by the customer or regulatory entity charged with compliance or quality assurance.
Characteristic accountability: The characteristics accountability form highlights all of the essential qualities or attributes of the part or parts that are subjected to the inspection. It summarizes dimensions, drawing motes, measurements, tolerances and other notable details.
For aerospace and defense needs, the characteristic accountability page may also include balloon drawings. A balloon drawing is a visual aid that defines the location and dimension of features on a part or assembly that is being inspected and verified as part of the inspection process. Much like the FAI report, and the inspection, what a ballooned drawing illustrates can vary based on what’s being examined, but it typically is a three-dimensional view of the part. Each surface feature is identified by a numbered balloon — hence the name — pointing to each surface. The balloon corresponds to a parts list, which provides more detailed information about the feature, such as its size, shape, location and other characteristics. Balloon drawings help to prevent errors by ensuring inspectors know what they are looking at and what parts are supposed to mimic for dimensions to be considered correct.
First Article Inspection is an all-important aspect to manufacturing and assuring quality control. It can also be complex. First Article Inspection software from DISCUS makes it endlessly easier. Since 2006, more manufacturers, engineers and quality assurance officers turn to DISCUS Software for all their First Article Inspection, inspection planning and supplier management needs. Contact us today to see how our solutions are designed to help your business succeed.