Before You Bid
If you want to work with an aerospace manufacturer, the first step is to find out what certifications they require.
“There are quality systems you have to meet before you can even get a chance to bid,” says Edward Stan, marketing director for Tacoma, Wash.-based General Plastics Manufacturing Company, which has sold to Boeing, its subsidiaries and its tier-1 suppliers for 50 years. The manufacturer’s high-strength, lightweight, flame-resistant composite core materials; self-skinning flexible foams; rigid foam tooling board; and edge closeout seals for honeycomb structures are used in flight deck and cabin interior components including walls and ceilings, overhead storage bins, partitions and lavatories.
AS9100, the quality management standard for the aerospace industry, is a good place to start. “Typically, AS9100 is the minimum,” Brown says. “If you didn’t have AS9100, you wouldn’t even be under consideration.”
For the supply of parts and assemblies, accreditation to Nadcap is normally required, says Brown. Nadcap is an industry-managed program that grants accreditation for special processes used in the aerospace and military industries, including the manufacture of composite materials. Other standards that aerospace companies might want to see include ISO 9001 and MIL-I-45208A for defense jobs. Each company may also have its own standards, such as Boeing’s D6-82479, that suppliers are required to meet.
Once they’ve achieved the proper certifications, suppliers still can’t sit back on their heels. Ongoing audits are conducted to ensure they continue to meet the standards.
Such audits take place “on short notice at any point in time and at a frequency defined by the customer,” Gurit’s Reijnen says, though he adds that consistent supply, quality and adherence to deadlines can prompt OEMs to reduce the frequency of audits over time.
Airbus and Boeing tier-1 suppliers have been auditing at frequencies ranging from twice a year to once every three years or more, Reijnen says. ISO audits take place every three years, and Boeing audits quarterly for rate readiness, according to Stan.
In addition to quality system certifications, composite material suppliers must also prove that their products are up to snuff through material specification tests. Suitability of the materials must also be proven for each application in accordance with aircraft certification requirements, says Eric Thiebault, Airbus’ vice president of procurement for composites and paints.
Specification can be costly. A simple evaluation of material properties can cost more than $20,000 and a complete design database more than $500,000, estimates Matt Douglas, product manager for Quantum Composites. Moreover, specifications must be repeated following any significant changes in manufacturing location, machinery or raw materials. “If a raw material is discontinued, qualifying a substitute can be very involved,” Douglas says.