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The decision to pursue military and aerospace (milaero) certification impacts every facet of the organization, and not every shop is prepared to make this transformation. This is the first article in a four-part series, breaking down what it takes in sales and customer service, engineering and CAM, purchasing and quality, and manufacturing.
The first step in this process is to have formal training for the management staff in the requirements of the two primary standards: AS9100 for aerospace and MIL-PRF-31032 for military and defense. Nothing good will come from starting this process without top management fulling understanding the requirements and the resources it will take to achieve these certifications. This step is not to be overlooked or undervalued, as these standards require a significant transformation in every business process in the organization. The resources required will include time for training and execution, money for new equipment, and personnel and soft costs for things like learning curves for new processes that are implemented. Once this training is complete, it will need to be rolled out to the supervisors/leads and then the rest of the workforce.
AS9100 and MIL-PRF-31032
It is important to understand that these two standards are completely different but complementary for a PCB manufacturer. AS9100 is a quality system certification that applies internationally to any company, industry, and product/service. MIL-PRF-31032 is a performance standard that only applies to PCB manufacturers.
AS9100 is concerned with your business processes and focuses on customer satisfaction from a system standpoint and the procedures and work instructions required to run the business. It does not specify any product-specific requirements, only system-level requirements. MIL-PRF-31032 is concerned with the ability of the company to manufacturer PCBs that meet the performance requirements in the standard. The primary focus is on process control and inspection/testing of the PCBs, and only the work instructions related to these two areas.
The salesforce responsible for new business development and quoting will need to understand the cost implications of building a milaero PCB vs. a standard commercial/industrial PCB. Most companies pursuing milaero certification will already have ISO certification, and the sales team knows how to quote these orders. Companies that are not currently ISO will have an even greater “sticker shock” when looking at the cost adders that will be required.
AS9100 includes 100% of the requirements of ISO PLUS 80+ additional requirements. The sales team will need to understand which of these additional requirements will add cost and need to be considered in the quote. The same goes for MIL-PRF-31032, which has requirements for special inspections and tests, additional panel coupons, and a significant increase in labor costs for microsectioning. Both of these standards come with additional documentation requirements, which means additional labor to manage this additional workload. Depending on the size of the organization and the amount of milaero business, dedicated personnel may be required for some of these tasks.
Another change that will be required is training the sales community on how to sell a milaero shop to customers. Having these certifications will open doors to new business that have been closed to them in the past. Of course, having these certifications are not a differentiator to milaero customers; however, they are for the other market sectors. While the added documentation will not be completed for commercial/industrial customers, they will be receiving “milaero quality” PCBs without the additional costs. All of the quality systems and process control upgrades that will have been implemented are selling points that should be capitalized on. Missing milaero requirements at the quote stage can be the difference between profit and loss on a given order.
Customer Service Impact
This is the probably the first department that could have a labor impact related to milaero orders as the contract review time required to review and process a purchase order (PO) will increase by a factor of 2X-4X. A mistake here will be much more catastrophic than one in sales; a sales error will mean you are not getting paid for something you have done to meet a requirement, but an error in customer service will result in losing the time and material put into manufacturing PCBs that will end up in the scrap bin.
Most milaero customers will attach, or reference, their own specification with every PO outlining the requirements the PCB manufacturer must comply with. It is not uncommon for these documents to be 30–40 pages in length and include requirements that must “flow down” to the suppliers of the PCB manufacturer. It may also contain specific purchasing requirements, including specific sub-suppliers that must be used by the manufacturer.
The PO must be reviewed closely as sometimes specific requirements, or quality clauses, are called out while other POs may require all quality clauses to be met. This may also vary with each specific part number, further adding complexity and opportunity for error. Customer service provides the handshake on these requirements to purchasing, quality, engineering, and manufacturing, and an error or missed requirement at this stage will be quite costly.
As you can see, in just two departments, becoming a milaero manufacturer changes the game significantly, adding new processes and a much higher degree of complexity when dealing with milaero orders. Part 2 will explore what it takes in the areas of engineering and CAM.
Anaya Vardya is president and CEO of American Standard Circuits. Vardya is also co-author of The Printed Circuit Designer’s Guide to… Fundamentals of RF/Microwave PCBs and Flex and Rigid-Flex Fundamentals. Visit I-007eBooks.com to download these and other free, educational titles.