September, 2022

Quality Management and Assurance in Aerospace: A customer-centric, mission-critical approach

OSAM-1: the future of satellite remote servicing and repair

Behind an organizational pursuit for maximum quality and customer satisfaction

1.5 million kilometers away, a new space telescope approaches its future home on Lagrange 2.

The craft will gaze far beyond our solar system to help scientists piece together our understanding of the cosmos. Once settled in orbit, its sensors will discover rich new data from light signatures and electro-magnetic songs from the beginning of time.

It will do this for decades, through extreme solar radiation, intense temperatures, debris impacts, and more. And that means there is no room for imperfection if the operation is to withstand the hardships of space.

Instruments, metals, and housings all need to perform perfectly at over boiling hot (110 °C) and beyond freezing cold (-237 °C), only seconds in between. Antennae arrays and mechanical components are to shrug off all material collisions. Batteries, communication systems, and fuel containers must remain intact through electromagnetic radiation and solar wind exposure. Structures should be steady under all types of stress and case scenarios. Accommodating even unkown unkowns for as long as the mission dictates. And beyond.

In aerospace engineering, product development must meet and exceed intense goals and requirements. And this is only possible with a thorough, mission-critical, and customer-centric approach to Quality Management and Assurance.

An Organizational Effort

Quality management and assurance is an extremely thorough and sensitive discipline. It encompasses every activity within a company or organization as a systemic effort, where every participant plays a key role in its implementation, measurement, and outcome.

The primary goal is that all stakeholders – internal or external – take part in a company culture that is committed to ensure that all deliverable products and services meet and exceed performance requirements. To achieve this, Quality Management and Assurance considers every organizational activity in its oversight process: from leadership and management, to logistics, operations, and planning; from production, customer relations, and prevention, to knowledge development & transfer, support activities, and more.

“Quality Management and Assurance is an organizational effort that considers every activity in its oversight process.”

The discipline engages in constant monitoring, data collection, and evaluation. It promotes extensive record keeping required for developing process documentation, plans, communication activities, and training. And it requires the implementation of a quality management and information system that incorporates them with regulatory requisites, customer requirements, process interactions, and International Standard correlations with easy access for all company members.

Newton's Product Development team performs testing operations for JALS. At Newton, quality management and assurance is a core element of our company culture.

At Newton, quality management and assurance is a core element of our company culture. Here, our Product Development team performs testing operations for JALS - the basis for Axis, our balanced precision lift.

A brief history of Quality

While Quality concerns can be found in every production endeavor in history, it can be traced as a discipline to the early 1920’s and Walter A. Shewhart’s pioneering statistical process control developed at Bell Laboratories.1

It was the first time that statistics were applied to quality control. Outcome sampling, production monitoring, and performance evaluation are tracked using specialized control charts. And as with the main goal of Quality Management itself, statistical process control opened the doors to a developing, constantly improving field widely adopted today in Standardized form.

The concept of Quality beyond production as an organizational process came to be during the 1980’s through "company quality". It proposes four (4) core aspects to quality management:

  1. Company and organization infrastructure:
    This area of focus encompasses the actual facilities of a company and its service/production structure. It considers all elements of the environments, technology, and tools of an organization.
  2. Development activities:
    This aspect comprehends processes, performance, controls, records, and job & task management. It evaluates every area of the value chain’s primary and support activities in unison.
  3. Competence & capability management:
    Concerns knowledge development, qualifications, skills, and experiences shared and promoted within the organization.
  4. Soft components:
    Encompasses organizational culture, personnel values, integrity, confidence, motivation, wellbeing, and quality relationships as an integral part for assurance performance.

This holistic approach set a new benchmark for Quality that the International Standards Organizations consolidated with the first ISO 9001 quality management system (QMS) published in 1987.

While many previous standards and methods existed; the universal methodology of ISO 9001 accelerated its wide-spread adoption and incorporation as the basis for supplier-purchaser contracts. It is today’s global norm for quality-homologated procurement. And its periodic revisions, industry-specific adaptations, and open performance reports make it a mandatory requirement for both Quality-certified business, and Quality-focused organizational management.

Enter the Standards

While ISO 9001 is one of the world’s most recognized QMS’s and a core condition for Aerospace Engineering & Product Development companies; the sector adds an additional required accreditation and implemented system with the SAE’s AS9100TM Quality Standard Rev. D.

This specialized Standard provides a framework for Quality that allows companies and organizations to both a) demonstrate the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements, and b) enhance customer satisfaction through its application.

AS9100 TM Rev. D includes the full ISO 9001:2015 standard as a core component. It then adds specialized criteria for:2

  • Product Safety
  • Counterfeit Parts Prevention
  • Greater Emphasis on Risk Management
  • Risk requirements & management with special emphasis in operational processes
  • Configuration Management to address specific stakeholder needs
  • Reinforced Awareness requirements to account for individual contribution to product and service quality, safety, and ethical behavior
  • Human Factors in nonconformity management and correction
  • Recurring corrective action mitigation
  • Special Requirements & Critical Items considerations
  • Measurements for requirements conformance and delivery performance
  • Proven Product Development Process adoption

In Aerospace, complying to both ISO 9001:2015 and AS9100TM Rev. D is a requirement that signals the status of a leading company or organization in the field as having a certified capacity to provide quality products and services developed by a quality-focused culture. It provides certainty and a framework for improvement where all stakeholders, including the customer, contribute to its progress.

A Customer-Centric Approach

"In Quality Management, customer requirements, input, and feedback are registered through a constantly updated process called Voice of the Customer (VOC).”

In Quality Management, customer requirements, input, and feedback are registered through a constantly updated process called Voice of the Customer (VOC). It produces a detailed record of wants and needs relative to missions and requirements that is structured by hierarchy and priority for product or service delivery. And from a customer satisfaction perspective, these customer desires and needs are also classified into three categories: known & voiced, known & not voiced, and unknown.

Meeting and surpassing known & voiced as well as known & not voiced needs is a source for Customer Satisfaction, while correctly identifying unknown, unvoiced needs, and meeting / surpassing them is a likely source of Delight.

These insights help build rich, collaborative relationships between companies or organizations and their stakeholders. And they are a core component of a customer-centric approach to engineering & product development where final outcomes consider maximum performance, quality, and customer satisfaction in every stage from the start.

Quality Management & Assurance at Newton

At Newton Engineering & Product Development, quality management and assurance is at the heart of our culture.

We are proud of our ISO 9001:2015 and AS9100TM Rev. D certifications. Our facilities are equipped with industry-leading tools and technology to achieve these results. And led by our management team and CJ Pindell, we’re continuously engaged in the pursuit of not better, but best, and beyond.

Stay tuned for future updates on our Quality Management and Assurance experience. And if you’d like to learn more about the discipline and its company-wide scope, the SAE website and AS9100TM documentation are a great place to start: