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Anyone who has traversed the qualification process for a new manufacturing technology knows just how lengthy and complex these processes can be. The uninitiated may be surprised to learn that implementing a new technology takes many more steps than they might have anticipated. In reality, qualifying a new manufacturing technology for application to your shop floor typically requires a progression through a large number of gates.
Of course, there is good reason for highly involved qualification processes, especially for products that serve as critical structural components in applications with high safety demands. Undetected manufacturing defects and flaws in such products create potentially calamitous risks for the product’s end user. For example, as the aerospace composites industry knows all too well, undetected manufacturing errors can and have resulted in the catastrophic loss of aircraft, including loss of life.
Because these qualification processes are so complicated, when you find a new technology that will advance your quality monitoring capabilities and speed, you have only just begun a process that often feels convoluted and confusing. You may even encounter obstacles with the potential to derail the qualification process altogether. What are the keys to successfully qualifying and benefiting from new quality monitoring technologies, like our LASERVISION automatic inspection solution?
The first and most important key is assembling a team that knows the way through the qualification maze. Over the years, our veteran Aligned Vision engineers have experienced this kind of teamwork firsthand. Many of our current team members were here back in 2001, for example, when we helped a customer qualify an automatic inspection device (predecessor to LASERVISION) under FAA and DOD standards to replace a required second inspector. The team for the qualification process included our application engineers, a design engineer and manufacturing engineer from the customer, and an FAA inspector. Each team member brings an important perspective that together help safeguard the quality, consistency and safety of each component you build.
Here are a few additional keys to expediting the qualification process for quality monitoring technologies while also achieving thw ultimate goal of the process: the documented trustworthiness of your products.
- Use technology readiness levels (TRLs) to determine when a new technology is ready for the qualification process. With the advent of Industry 4.0 and enabling technologies like artificial intelligence, many new and exciting advancements in quality monitoring are on their way. Which ones have actually “arrived”? Assurances from vendors that “we’re working on it” give you no definitive answers to this question. TRLs are designed to provide a quantitative checklist that gives you a clear sense of a technology’s status, from ideation to realization and commercialization.
- Develop specifications that are both acceptably safe and achievable. Many manufacturing companies and industries these days talk about “zero defect” goals, but with new quality monitoring technologies, it is important to determine just what this means. You don’t want to adopt a new technology that becomes a “part rejection machine.” That is, you need to develop a specification that allows you to differentiate between attribute failures and acceptable attribute variances. New quality monitoring systems often detect things that were previously undetectable, so your team must work closely together to determine the significance of each newly detectable feature or anomaly.
- Take a holistic approach as you define process and product requirements. Ensuring the safety of critical structural components means meeting the requirements of all stakeholders. This includes the regulators of the end product as well as the people responsible for meeting spec at every level, from your chief engineer to your floor personnel.
- Create a transition plan. Your qualification plan should define how you will transition from your previous technologies and protocols to certify the new technology’s field performance. In the case of inspecting critical structural components, for example, a first phase would run the new inspection system in parallel with manual inspection protocols. A comparative study that identifies flaws detected only by the manual protocol or only by the new inspection system enables you to determine the cause of each discrepancy and confirm that the new system is performing according to specification. By the time it becomes your primary inspection method, you will have full confidence in the new inspection system.
As a technology provider that has successfully collaborated with our customers numerous times through the entire qualification process with all its complexities, we are ready to help! Our experience includes helping customers through transitions, including transitioning to new technology as well as technology upgrades. We welcome your questions and concerns as you seek to gain the advantages of our new quality monitoring technologies. Contact us today!