Aerospace OEMs embrace Nadcap safety audit program

 - December 19, 2007, 11:30 AM

Aerospace OEMs are increasingly turning to the Nadcap safety auditing program to verify the standards of manufacturing processes down the supply chain. Twenty-three major manufacturers, including leading business aviation players such as Cessna, Raytheon Aircraft, Airbus, Boeing, Honeywell, GE Aircraft Engines, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, Sikorsky and Bell Helicopter, are now using the cooperative system. Bombardier, BAE Systems, Rockwell Collins and Alenia are preparing to join the program.

Before the establishment of the Nadcap auditing system, which is administered by the not-for-profit Performance Review Institute (PRI) in Warrendale, Pa., the major OEMs generally operated their own auditing processes for suppliers. This resulted in considerable duplication of effort and the potential for inconsistency in standards.

One major OEM has saved more than $1 million in annual auditing costs through its participation in Nadcap and has also told PRI that the institute’s audits are technically superior. An accredited Nadcap supplier has reported that the improvements identified by the audit process have produced a 97-percent reduction in the need to rework processes. Surveys of suppliers have shown an average of a 40-percent reduction in the number of audits conducted under the Nadcap regime compared with the days when each OEM audited its own suppliers.

Currently, more than 1,350 aerospace suppliers are Nadcap-accredited for their manufacturing processes. The program has conducted more than 11,800 audits since it began operations in 1990, and around 2,800 audits are due to be completed this year.

Nadcap Accreditation

The program uses independent auditors who each have an average of 30 years’ experience in their particular fields. Nadcap audits suppliers for 12 special processes: aerospace quality systems, chemical processing, coatings, composites, elastomer seals, fluids distribution systems, heat treating, materials testing laboratories, non-destructive testing, nonconventional machining and surface enhancement, sealants and welding. Plans are under way to add electronics processes to the audit list.

Following an audit, PRI engineers review the audit report and then work with the supplier to resolve any non-conformancy issues raised. Once PRI has accepted corrective action submittals, it forwards the audit package (including the report and evidence of subsequent resolution of issues) to one of the Nadcap task groups covering each of the processes. The task groups are composed of representatives from prime contractors subscribing to Nadcap. They decide whether or not to accredit a supplier’s performance.

Crucially, only the prime contractors are represented on the task group and are able to view supplier audits and vote on their performance. However, suppliers are able to give advisory input to the task force covering more general issues. Suppliers are able to view their own audits only on the PRI secure Web site.

In the event that a prime contractor votes not to accredit a supplier’s audit, it has to provide valid reasons so that the supplier may improve performance and work to complete accreditation. This transparency also serves to protect the integrity of the process, ensuring that companies cannot block an approval for competitive reasons, but only on purely technical grounds. Accreditation votes require a two-thirds majority. Suppliers whose audits are not accepted can resort to an appeal process.

Companies that successfully complete the audits are placed on the Nadcap-qualified manufacturers list. Audits are repeated annually until a supplier gains merits and earns an extended accreditation. If a company achieves two consecutive audits that show good performance, the extension is for 18 months, and continued good performance can extend the audit interval up to 24 months.

OEMs pay a subscription to Nadcap, based on the number of the special processes for which they need audits. The suppliers also pay fees for each audit, and these vary according to the complexity of the process.

Nadcap was originally the U.S. National Aerospace Defense Contractors Accreditation Program, but the organization dropped the full name once it took on an international dimension. There is now a European regional advisory body made up of European aerospace OEMs to support the organization’s international reach.

Increasingly, Nadcap audits are being conducted with Asian suppliers in emerging aerospace countries such as China and South Korea. The PRI board of directors includes senior quality assurance and supply-chain management executives from Nadcap member OEMs.