Manufacturers invest significant time and resources into their quality control efforts to prevent defective products from ending up in consumers’ hands. Depending on the business and industry, quality management efforts can look very different. For example, quality control officers may perform checks at various stages of the production process or even a final random inspection to detect and identify nonconforming items.

In some industries, these quality control checks don’t suffice when manufacturers want to catch defects early in production. In such instances, quality control teams must examine the products during the very first production run to effect changes before wasting any additional resources.

This initial product examination is referred to as a first article inspection (FAI). Manufacturers in certain industries conduct this inspection because the products or parts should adhere to specific acceptable dimensions and related specifications.

In this post, we’ll discuss first article inspection and how manufacturers can adequately execute this quality management procedure with the help of digital tools.

What is a first article inspection?

A first article inspection is a process commonly conducted in a contract manufacturing environment that determines and confirms if a product or part has been made to a client’s specifications. This process is executed during the first production run, usually by internal quality control officers or a third-party party with the necessary lab or inspection equipment.

And despite the name, the inspection activity doesn’t necessarily point at the first item made. Instead, the quality inspectors assess one to five random parts from the first batch or mass production run. Then, the inspector randomly selects a part and determines if it matches the client’s instructions.

In many instances, the test parts are viewed against a golden sample – a part that perfectly meets all the desired specifications. In other situations, inspectors use specialized laboratory equipment to measure dimensions and other specifications, ensuring that the product falls within the precise tolerances and fit.

Additionally, the first article inspection evaluates the viability of the manufacturing process. If the assessment determines that the part meets the requirements, it also shows that the manufacturing process is ideal for further consistent production.

When to conduct a first article inspection

Although production operations undertake various quality management procedures, first article inspection is more common in a few manufacturing industries. For example, the practice is more common in automotive, aerospace, medical device, and electronics manufacturing.

This is because these industries require a lot of precision when crafting their products. FAIs are particularly important because manufacturers in these spaces often outsource production to contract manufacturers.

Regardless of industry, first article inspections are performed in the following instances:

  • A new product has been introduced

  • The design of a product or part has been modified

  • There’s been a change in type or quality of raw material used

  • There’s been a change in the factory location

  • New processes have been adopted or otherwise changed

  • Production of an item has been resumed after a two-year gap or more

  • A manufacturing client has submitted a special request

Some isolated alterations, like changing the part’s packaging, don’t trigger fresh first article inspections. Instead, quality managers can conduct a partial assessment known as a delta first article inspection.

When inspectors complete the assessment, they generate a first article inspection report (FAIR).

What to include in a first article inspection report

A first article inspection report provides a summary from the inspector, showing whether the part or product passed or failed the assessment.

Although different manufacturers require particular items in the report, some industries have standard report requirements. For example, the aerospace industry requires first article inspections and reports to follow the AS9102B standard.

This standard report comprises three forms, namely:

Form 1 (Part Number accountability): This form identifies and provides details about the part being examined during the first article inspection. In addition, this form also details the various sub-assemblies and associated components.

Form 1 also identifies the manufacturer, customer purchase order, and the organization performing the inspection. Additionally, this form specifies the inspector, their signature and the inspection date.

The client also approves the FAIR on this form, stating the date of approval and signature.

Form 2 (Product accountability): This section of the first article inspection report shows the raw materials, special processes and functional testing required for the product design.

Furthermore, this form maintains the part, supplier and customer identification particulars identical to those in Form 1.

Form 3 (Characteristic accountability): Here, the report zeros in on the finer details for verification and compatibility evaluation. This form summarizes the design characteristics like dimensions and tolerances.

Additionally, it shows the drawing notes and contains bubble or balloon drawings for the part under inspection. Balloon drawings are used to verify design characteristic requirements, featuring numbered balloons corresponding to characteristic numbers in the form table.

How Tulip can help manage quality

If a manufacturing business produces complex products, performing first article inspections can be intensive. After all, these products might contain numerous parts that require detailed inspection. Furthermore, it’s easier to make errors when entering details into forms and drawing balloons.

However, manufacturers can make this process more manageable by leveraging digital solution that helps streamline the quality management process. For example, Tulip can allow quality officials to streamline quality inspections by integrating the necessary measurement equipment and IoT devices.

Additionally, our platform promotes accountability by automatically noting inspectors and any changes they make to the document. Documents can be digitized and stored in one centralized location, ensuring data integrity, and allowing for easy access by necessary parties.

If you’re interested in learning how Tulip can help streamline quality inspections and manage your documentation, reach out to a member of our team today!

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