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Based on my experience with audits over the last 20 years—reviewing compliance to various standards and regulations, such as Nadcap (formerly known as the National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program), AS9100, ISO 13485, ISO 9001, Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections—I can confidently say that Nadcap audits are the most rigorous. Suppliers that offer services or products to the aerospace industry are familiar with Nadcap accreditation; it’s the gold standard for best-in-class process compliance assessment. However, obtaining Nadcap certification can be an overwhelming endeavor for suppliers that don’t have proper guidance. This column provides guidelines that companies have used in the past to successfully achieve Nadcap accreditation.
Before I outline these strategies, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of the accreditation. Nadcap accreditation is an aerospace-driven program where highly qualified professionals, having experience in the aerospace industry, conduct the actual process audits, using criteria specifically developed by industry experts. The official Nadcap guidance is found in the Performance Review Institute (PRI) website.
The PRI auditor will use a product-specific checklist to evaluate compliance to processes being evaluated. Before attempting Nadcap special process accreditation, the organization must have an approved quality management system (QMS) to the following standards: aerospace quality systems (AQS) standard AS/EN/JISQ9100, AS/EN9110, or ISO 17025 recognized by the National Cooperation for Laboratory Accreditation (NACLA) and the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) accreditation body for testing laboratories, including nondestructive testing laboratories. If the organization doesn’t already have an approved QMS, Nadcap can conduct an AQS audit.
Understand the Accreditation Process and Timeline Expectations
Obtaining Nadcap certification can be a lengthy process. Figure 1 shows a roadmap of the steps that are required for accreditation. The overall process typically takes 12–16 months to complete. Some organizations that take longer, depending on the complexity required to correct findings identified during the audit. The key to the qualification process is preparation. You need to do a gap assessment with an independent industry expert that can provide you with an unbiased compliance review of your process(es). The gap assessment is not required but highly recommended by PRI. The internal audit is required before the accreditation audit.
Figure 1: Roadmap of the steps required for accreditation.
Important Steps to Take Before the PRI Audit
The internal Nadcap audit is the most important part of the preparation. Allocate the right resources and time to do a comprehensive process audit with the Nadcap checklist. The objective is to identify all possible deficiencies ahead of the accreditation audit. Assign appropriate resources to correct deficiencies identified during this internal audit.
Once you have completed the internal Nadcap audit and addressed deficiencies, prepare for the accreditation audit by reviewing the fundamentals of your quality systems with all employees before the audit. As with any audit, it is important your procedures, calibration logs, and records are in good order.
Collect and review (for compliance) copies of the objective evidence, such as calibration certificates, quality procedures, records, logs, and sample job traveler documents that the auditor will need to review beforehand. Verify that there will be a sufficient number of parts, products, and components available for demonstration of proficiency. The auditor will only review parts or services being processed for aerospace customers.
Also, advise your customers, both internal and external, of the impending Nadcap audit. They have a vested interest in your success as an accredited Nadcap supplier as well. This request will increase the confidence level of your customers that your processes are compliant, and you are not concerned for them to participate in this rigorous audit.
Assign a Technical Expert to Lead the Nadcap Certification
The audit is highly technical regarding process compliance, so it is recommended that you assign a technical expert or senior process engineer to lead the Nadcap preparation. Quality systems personnel can help to coordinate the audit schedule and ensure documentation is in place to support the accreditation. However, the audit itself will require your technical expert to review process capabilities, controls, and industry-specific test methods used to validate product reliability and product conformance.
Gain a Comprehensive Understanding of the Auditor Criteria Checklist
The audit criteria checklist used for the Nadcap audit is defined by the type of product or service the supplier offers to the aerospace industry. Make sure the assigned technical lead is immersed in understanding the specific requirements outlined in this checklist. You will also use this checklist for the internal process audit.
This is an excerpt of Alfred's column that appears in the September 2019 issue of SMT007 Magazine. To read the entire column, click here.