GOM Metrology

GOM Metrology

First Article Inspection

First Article Inspection: From an Initial Sample to the Release

Several steps are necessary before a product or component can go into series production. One of the last steps shortly before the start of production is the first article inspection (FAI). Other terms for this final inspection are first piece inspection, first sample test or initial sample inspection. This functional test is particularly important because it ensures that the product meets the specified requirements and standards before it goes into series production. What exactly is a first article inspection, why is it important and which norms and test standards must be adhered to?

What is the First Article Inspection?

Before a product can go into series production, it must first be manufactured under realistic conditions as part of an initial sample. This initial sample is used by customers to test quality, functionality and suitability for series production. Possible defects and other quality deficiencies should thus be detected and eliminated before the start of production. In addition, the first article inspection examines whether the agreements between supplier and customer have been complied with.

During the first article inspection, the specified target values are compared with the actual values of the production process, among other things. This involves checking whether the product is ready for series production and can be manufactured reproducibly at a constant quality. The results of the initial sampling are recorded in an first piece inspection report. The complexity and scope of the sampling can vary greatly depending on the customer's requirements. However, the objective of a first article inspection is always the same: defects should be excluded as far as possible before the start of series production.

What is an Initial Sample?

The initial sample is a product that has been manufactured completely with series production equipment under series conditions on machines that will also be used in subsequent series production. The test of the first sample also takes place with measuring equipment that is used in series production. The realistic "simulation" of the production of initial samples is recorded based on documentation and used for the release of the production process and product. Initial sampling is requested primarily when new parts or new assemblies are manufactured, when design changes are made to an existing product, or when new suppliers are involved.

What is a First Article Inspection Report?

A first piece inspection report is proof of a product's suitability for series production. The documentation proves that a product can be manufactured by the supplier without defects in the agreed quality. A FAI report contains various test procedures that are individually adapted to the respective product. Furthermore, a first article inspection report contains, among other things, parts lists, process diagrams, production control plans and customer release forms.

With the first piece inspection report, the supplier and customer establish basic quality standards, define product properties and characteristics, and document the entire production process with the utmost precision. For the customer, the first article inspection report makes the production process as transparent as possible, and the supplier can use the document to prove at any time and in a court-proof manner that series production can be carried out with consistent, optimum quality. 

A documented initial sample inspection report is subject to a retention period of usually 10 years. The acceptance of the initial sample is confirmed in the FAI report by both the customer and the supplier with a signature.

What Does the First Article Inspection Include?

The central point of the first article inspection is the manufacture of the products to be sampled under the conditions of subsequent series production. The aim is to test the readiness of the product for series production and the performance of the machines and tools used for production in a test environment that is as realistic as possible. 

It also includes testing the first sample regarding the properties required by the customer and specified in the contract. The properties include both technical and non-technical properties, for example the condition of surfaces, compliance with tolerances and standards, and of course the functionality of the product. The exact procedure of the first article inspection, the individual steps and special features are recorded individually between the customer and supplier as part of a quality assurance agreement.

ZEISS supports your first piece inspection process: from planning and execution to inspection reporting and final release of the samples. With ZEISS measuring equipment and the appropriate software, you can perform your first article inspection quickly and precisely.

First Article Inspection According to PPAP and VDA

Two procedures for first article inspection have developed in the automotive industry: the Production Process and Product Approval according to VDA Volume 2 (German Association of the Automotive Industry) and the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) according to the AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group). The PPAP process is the American counterpart to the VDA process. In both processes, the parts supplied are inspected and the results documented accordingly in a First Article Inspection Report (VDA) or a Part Submission Warrant (AIAG).

According to AIAG there are 18 PPAP requirements, according to VDA 22 requirements. The new version of VDA Volume 2 (6th revised edition), published in April 2020, ensures that the method of sampling has been modernized and that the documentation of the VDA process is now closer to PPAP.

Requirement VDA Contents PPAP (No.) 
  Cover sheet for the VDA report  18
 1 Inspection results for product release: (e.g., geometry, dimensions, function, material (e.g., strength, physical properties), haptics, acoustics, odor, appearance, surface, reliability, EMC/ESD testing, electrical safety, etc.)  9, 10, 13, 17
 2 Samples (quantity or delivery volume as agreed)  14
 3 Technical specifications (e.g., customer drawings, CAD data, specifications, approved design changes, short-circuit resistance, voltage protection, functional safety (FUSI), etc.)  1,2
 4 FMEA (product and process)  4
 5 Supplier's design and development approvals if responsible for development as per agreement  x
 6 Evidence of compliance with legal requirements, as agreed with the customer (e.g., environment, safety, recycling, country-specific certifications)  17
 7 Material data sheet via IMDS  10
 8 Software test report, process conformity  x
 9 FMEA process  6
 10 Process flow diagram (manufacturing and inspection steps)  5
 11 Production control plan  7
 12 Process capability evidence  11
 13 Evidence of securing special characteristics
 17
 14 List of measuring equipment (product-specific)
 16
 15 Measurement system analysis, where appropriate (results)
 11, 16
 16 Tooling overview (with quantity/number of nests and information on tooling concept)
 x
 17 Evidence of achieving agreed capacity (process validation)
 x
 18 Written self-assessment of criteria according to the matrix evaluation of production and process readiness
 x
 19 Part submission warrant (PSW)  2
 20 Proof of suitability of transportation means used
 x
 21 Overview of individual parts in the supply chain (purchased parts, set parts, and in-house parts) with VDA decision
 x
 22 Coating system release according to customer requirements
 x
 PPAP 12 and 15 are not included in the VDA.

Why is a First Article Inspection Important for Series Production?

As soon as a product goes into series production, detailed checks on quality and compliance with all specifications are no longer economically feasible, especially for large quantities. In the case of serial parts, only random checks of individual products are usually carried out. As a result, defects are either not detected at all or detected much too late, which can result in expensive rework or even scrap. 

With a first article inspection, it is possible to check in detail and before the actual start of production whether the supplier - i.e. the company that manufactures the parts - can meet and maintain the customer's requirements. Possible errors can also be detected at an early stage with the first article inspection and reliably prevented by adjusting the production process. For the customer, a successfully performed first piece inspection means that the supplier has understood the product requirements and is able to manufacture the required quantities under series conditions in a process-safe manner.

With ZEISS, you can integrate the optimal sampling process into your production. Using an integrated report designer, you can integrate individual forms and specifications into the process flow and also simplify re-sampling. Characteristics that have already been recorded are automatically transferred, including specifications such as limit values, test instructions and test equipment. With ZEISS, high quality assurance of your first article inspection is always guaranteed.

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