AS9102 FormsYou can’t compromise on quality in the manufacturing world. End users have expectations that their new car, medical device, smartphone or consumer good will function as it’s intended to for the duration of its lifecycle. First Article Inspection (FAI) can deliver quality assurance to you and your customer base. 

What is First Article Inspection? 

First article inspection is a quality control process that is used throughout the manufacturing industry. More colloquially known as FAI, First Article Inspection is performed in the seminal stages of when a new product is brought to the marketplace and verifies that the design and development requirements for a given product have been achieved. In this way, FAI helps manufacturers confirm that they’re doing all the right things throughout the course of production so the deliverable will work effectively or appear as it’s supposed to upon completion.

But FAI isn’t solely performed to ensure manufacturers are abiding by the appropriate standards, client’s wishes or to achieve compliance. FAI is also important to the mass production process itself. Since most manufacturers operate on a timeline or deadline  — where they have so many deliverables they have to complete — FAI helps to confirm that the manufacturer has all the raw materials, parts and other essentials that are necessary to produce at scale. This is part of the reason why the First Article Inspection is performed before mass production begins.

How does the First Article Inspection process work?

Similar to the manufacturing of any food, chemical, machinery or virtually any other end-use product, FAI isn’t done in one fell swoop. It occurs in several stages. The steps may be more elaborate depending on the complexity of the manufacturing process and the rigorousness of the quality assurance standards for each industry (e.g. health care, aviation, etc.). Here’s a general overview of each stage and what occurs during them.

  1. Preparation: Preparation refers to the inspection team performing the FAI. Here, the proper documentation materials related to correct assembly are gathered as are any production drawing materials. The tools necessary for the article inspection are also acquired to ensure that the produced parts match the design specifications. The inspection team uses coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) as part of this process. CMMs consist of a measuring probe that is mounted on a machine tool and can be moved along three axes to inspect the surface of a part.
  2. Inspection of the first articles: This is the actual inspection process where the appropriate professionals closely examine the first articles produced. In terms of the inspection process itself, a sample of the product is taken from the initial production run and serves as the test subject. Examination can involve dimensional measurements, visual inspections and functional testing to verify that the parts meet the design specifications. 
  3. Documentation: In the documentation phase, the results of the inspection are logged (i.e., documented) and compared to the design specifications. This is an especially critical stage of an FAI because it’s ultimately what determines whether the first articles are, in fact, aligning with the archetype or if flaws exist. If deviations or discrepancies are discovered, they’re noted and the root cause is analyzed to determine the appropriate corrective action. This stage also entails drafting a first article inspection report.
  4. Approval or rejection: This is the decision stage and involves reviewing the documentation from the inspection regarding whether the first articles adhere to the desired design or quality standards of the purchasing manufacturer. If everything checks out, then the production process can resume and mass production can begin. If discrepancies are found during the inspection, then they must be corrected before full-scale production can get underway. The corrections must then be verified to ensure that they have been properly implemented.

Is First Article Inspection a requirement?

The short answer is it depends. While not always something that is mandated by oversight or regulatory entities, FAI is generally considered to be a best practice more than anything else — particularly in manufacturing subsectors where precision is key, such as aerospace, defense, automotive, health care (i.e., medical devices) and several other leading sectors. In order to produce at scale, there needs to be an easily repeatable workflow that can be replicated on assembly lines, whether that’s done by automation or human professionals. FAI helps to ensure that this workflow is as it should be so that there’s consistency with each item that is produced.

As anyone in the manufacturing industry can attest, mistakes happen from time to time during the course of production. And they’re costly when they do, both in time and money. In fact, manufacturers collectively spend an average of $50 billion per year on unplanned downtime, according to Forbes. 

Errors can still take place without FAI as a quality control tool, but it reduces the likelihood that they will when it’s leveraged as a fail-safe measure. If someone’s safety may be compromised as a result of a product flaw, then First Article Inspection may be a regulatory requirement governed by entities like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA).

What is a first article inspection report?

As previously referenced, a First Article Inspection report is an all-inclusive document that summarizes the results of the First Article Inspection process in its totality. When done properly, an FAI report is designed to provide a thorough review and record of the inspection results and to demonstrate that the product meets the design specifications and/or customer requirements. 

You can know that an FAI report has been done well when it accomplishes the following:

  • Allows for verification of drawings to represent necessary adjustments for parts design.
  • Verifies the production process in a comprehensive manner that considers every parameter — not just the ones that are deemed to be the most important.
  • Corroborates that tooling is in the right condition and can be relied upon to produce parts within defined specifications. 
  • Ensures that fixed process documentation attachments are available. 
  • Details customer approvals.
  • Associates process certification with the correct revision levels. 

The DISCUS Advantage
You’ve invested in the tools, training and equipment for your mass production needs. DISCUS can help you streamline FAI inspection. With the DISCUS family of products, you can organize all the technical data that are relevant to the production process and capture the characteristic accountability of a part more efficiently. Our proprietary FAI software can increase the speeds of FAI by as much as 50%, without in any way sacrificing accuracy, quality or dependability of the inspection. 

To learn more, contact us today.