Aerospace manufacturers require rigorous inspection of each and every one of the thousands of parts they use in producing their products. This "source inspection" quality assurance (QA) system can lead to serious delays, especially if shipping must be held off until the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), sub-tier assembly supplier, warehouse, or other aerospace supply chain company can schedule one of its qualified inspectors to go to the manufacturing site and examine the parts.
Vendors who obtain a "source release" designation no longer need to wait for one of the limited number of source inspectors to arrive. They can ship their parts directly, straight to the production line into an assembly and the manufacturer can be secure in the knowledge that the part meets requirements. Other benefits of source release to the OEM include reduction in receiving inspection staff, less stock on hand resulting in less warehousing, and reduction of paperwork.
One Connecticut manufacturer of aerospace blade locks, springs, rings and stampings has worked hard to gain source release designation as a way of adding value. Being source released enables them to meet quick delivery timetables required by just-in-time manufacturing and meet the needs of the aerospace industry.
Production of jet engines requires a high level of performance and reliability. This imperative has led OEMs to incorporate strict quality standards into their manufacturing processes, including external source inspection, to ensure that supplies and services comply with specifications. Inspection before accepting most parts is a key component of that QA effort.
When vendors are source released, they are no longer required to undergo inspection or laboratory testing by outside parties before goods can be shipped. This saves considerable time, since inspection resources are limited and an inspector may be sent to a facility once a week; goods produced in between inspections may have to sit around before being shipped.
Recent trends have seen OEMs drastically reducing the number of source inspectors they employ by developing reliable sources for parts. This enables them to reduced costs for employing large numbers of source inspectors to cover the many facilities producing parts, as well as reduce delays caused by holding shipments for several days until source inspectors could make it to a facility to inspect.
Different OEMs, sub-tier assembly suppliers, warehouses, and other major aerospace hardware and supply chain logistics firms may have different names for their source release program. Examples include Certified Supplier Program, Supplier Release Program or Qualified Supplier List. Requirements are basically the same, but there may be some variations, based on the particular OEM. The basic premise of the program is that it allows the product to bypass the customer's receiving inspection department and go directly to their stock or straight to the assembly line if needed.
These programs typically designate someone within the vendor's quality department to act as an agent on their behalf. The supplier representative must be approved by the OEM or other end user. Some OEMs require the source to have two people approved, so one can serve as a backup at all times. To obtain source release status, vendors usually have to achieve a quality rating of 95 percent or better, provide 100 percent on time delivery, and zero defective parts per million (PPM).
The authorized source release person inspects parts to confirm dimensions, verify that outside sources have supplied proper certifications, ensure that the material has been supplied by acceptable sources or has undergone proper independent laboratory analysis when necessary, and that the parts are properly labeled, marked and packaged.
Most source release programs require that a quality representative candidate form be completed prior to acceptance. Similar to a job application, the form focuses on length of employment, experience, education, training, knowledge of quality requirements, and the ability to use inspection tools. The candidate usually must have at least six months to one year of working in quality, yearly eye exams, knowledge of applicable documents and specifications.
OEMs require a high level of confidence to support source release, which is why they may periodically give classes and conduct testing to ensure that source release agents are aware of all the latest changes and continuing to follow proper procedures. Some OEMs require classroom training of two to three days, followed by a competency test and recertification every two or three years.
Suppliers participating in source release programs will have many different quality requirements specified on purchase orders and blue prints. Specific written documentation may be required to accompany parts delivered, they may have to follow particular steps for processing parts, follow requirements for any subcontractors used to process the parts (for example, heat treat, shot peening, passivation and plating), and they usually will have packaging and part marking specifications.
Inspectors from the OEM will periodically visit the source released facility, conducting audits and checking records to confirm compliance with manufacturing processes.
Farmington, CT-based Connecticut Spring & Stamping (CSS), which has been source released for major aircraft manufacturers for more than 25 years, is currently source released for ten major aircraft OEMs, sub-tier assembly manufacturers, and aerospace hardware suppliers or warehousing operations. Examples include Pratt & Whitney, General Electric Aircraft Engines Division, Hamilton Sundstrand, and Wesco Manufacturing, Inc., to name a few.
For one major OEM, the CSS internal source inspector attends a 3-day training class every three years. For another, the source inspector attends a similar training class every two years. For other OEMs, CSS receives onsite training, rather than formal training classes. Once trained, CSS is given a manual containing all that OEM's requirements, and self-certifies that it follows these specifications.
After achieving source release designation, the OEMs continued to conduct quarterly inspections, but most have gradually reduced the frequency of their outside inspections as they gained confidence in CSS' rigorous internal quality control processes. Some OEMs now restrict their outside inspections to first article inspection (FAI) for new parts. After more than two decades as a source released vendor, some OEMs even allow CSS to self-release their first article for a new part, and then sign off during a later inspection.
Some OEMs supply CSS with a stamp indicating that the goods have been source-released, while others supply supplier direct ship (SDS) labels, indicating that the goods can be shipped to the production line. Engineering specifications are reviewed in a particular manner that meets various OEM requirements.
Part marking and packaging is an important element in source release for CSS, since the parts they make are small and must be properly tracked and labeled for efficient use. Some OEMS specify the packaging required as well as the quantity to be placed in each bag. Where part numbers are etched or stamped into a metal formed part, they must strictly adhere to all marking specifications.
Refresher courses ensure that employees follow any new changes to marking methods, or label requirements. To meet traceability requirements, some OEMs require that parts are marked with for example, the cage code, title of part, OEM job number and the date the parts were packaged.
The purchase order may specify exactly which source release requirements apply to a particular order. These may include adherence to Q101, Q202, AS 9100 standards, ISO 9000 standards, first article inspection, or other quality clauses. Usually, any changes to the process, including moving where on the floor the job is run, or introduction of any new machinery, will require another first article inspection. Depending upon the tolerances they are working to, some jobs may be more involved, requiring a 100 percent load test to certify that the parts meet specifications.
In recent years, many OEMs have been moving towards using large third party aerospace warehousing firms because they don't want to carry costs associated with holding large parts inventories. Many corporations are also letting warehouses take control of all high volume/low cost products, to limit the time their buyers have to spend on such commodity items. The warehouse operations, which supply parts to multiple OEMs, can get parts at reduced prices by ordering in larger quantities. Vendors who are source released for the warehouses must follow all the specific OEMs' requirements.
The source release program is a win-win for OEMs and suppliers like CSS , since it enables them to meet fast turnaround times and just-in-time manufacturing requirements.