AS9100: The Quality Management System that Changed Aerospace

AS9100

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped.” – Eric Moody, British Airways Captain, Business Insider

The words no one wants to hear when they’re tightly strapped into an aluminum tube, flying at 900kph, 35,000 feet up in the air.

One in three Americans either feels anxious or scared to fly and 73% are fearful of mechanical problems during flight.

On a flight from Kiev to Toronto, several screws fell out of the ceiling onto my lap…When air started sucking out of a loose seam around my window, I really started to panic.” – Nate Drescher, The Travel

But air travel in the United States is the safest in the world. The odds of dying in a car accident are about one in 5,000. The odds of dying in a plane crash are about one in 11,000,000.

So, putting our fears aside for a second, why is flying the safest way to travel?

Well, partly because of the advances in aircraft design, technology, and engineering, but mostly because of Aerospace Standard (AS) 9100. The International Quality Management System standard for the Aviation, Space, and Defense industry.

A person would have to fly on average once a day every day for 22,000 years before they would die in a U.S. commercial airplane accident” – Dr. Arnold Barnett, FlyFright

Whether you’re an avid flyer, an aviation expert, or an aerospace supplier, join me as we fly through the following AS9100 topics:

Fix your seat in an upright position, fasten your seatbelt, and prepare for take-off…

What is AS9100 and where on earth did it come from?

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Every day over 40,000 flights and 2.6 million air passengers fly in and out of the US.

Although plane crash fatalities fell more than 50% in 2019, and, as we established earlier, flying is still the safest way to travel, when air travel goes wrong, it goes catastrophically wrong.

Remember July 17th, 1996? An undetected problem with the fuel tank on TWA flight 800 caused the plane to blow up mid-air, killing all 230 people on board.

But this level of catastrophe doesn’t just apply to planes.

Remember March 18th, 1980? A Vostok rocket exploded in the Soviet Union due to faulty fuel filters, killing 51 engineers.

Two fatal accidents, each caused by faulty parts that weren’t adequately checked or tested before take-off.

Faulty parts, shoddy workmanship, and a lack of quality control prompted the aviation and aerospace industry to produce a set of standards for all aerospace suppliers and manufacturers to follow.

That set of standards was called AS9100.

But what exactly is AS9100 and who is it for? Why is it needed and where did it come from?

Well, let’s find out…

What is AS9100?

In basic terms, AS9100 is a global set of quality management standards for the Aviation, Space, and Defense industries.

It provides aerospace industry suppliers with a set of requirements for creating and maintaining a quality management system that will enable them to produce and supply safe and reliable products to the Aviation, Space, and Defense industry.

AS9100 is the quality systems aerospace model for quality assurance in design development, production, installation, and servicing” – AS9100 Quality Systems, NASA

AS9100 is based on the internationally recognized standards for quality management systems, published by ISO (International Organization for Standardization), but supplements those standards with additional requirements specifically for the aerospace industry.

AS9100 helps organizations working in the aerospace realm to align the structure of their aviation, space and defense requirements with the foundation of the ISO 9001:2015 standard, which at its core is all about quality” – 5 Ways AS9100:2016 Can Help You Soar, Smithers

Let’s take a deeper look into the integral part ISO played in developing AS9100.

Where did AS9100 come from?

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The origin of the aerospace industry dates to 1903 when Wilbur and Orville Wright demonstrated an airplane, capable of powered, sustained flight… The Wright brothers’ success was due to detailed research and an excellent engineering-and-development approach” – Aerospace Industry – History, Britannica

I thought it important to include the above quote as I felt it surmised what AS9100 is all about: An excellent approach to engineering and development.

AS9100 officially began, in October of 1999 as a cooperative effort of more than 70 global aerospace companies, known as the International Aerospace Quality Group (IAQG).

The IAQG realized that if they standardized the aerospace industry and established a set of best practices that everyone could follow, they could not only improve aerospace product quality across the globe, but they could also cut costs by reducing the expensive ‘organization-unique’ requirements.

At first, they decided to roll out the ISO quality management system model, ISO 9001 (1994), as this was recognized internationally as having the best practices for managing quality. Which is what they were after.

However, it wasn’t long before they realized that ISO 9001 didn’t quite cut the mustard. Although it provided a solid framework for the industry to base their quality management systems on – it didn’t fully address the specific requirements of the aerospace industry.

So, they started to add their own requirements to ISO 9001 (1994), and called the newly adapted set of standards AS9100.

What AS9100 does is to take the world-class best practices for managing quality and adds the additional requirements that are important to the aerospace industry” – Mark Hammar, Applying AS9100 Rev D

Like ISO 9001, AS9100 has had a few updates over the years. The most recent version of the standard, at the time of this post, is AS9100 D.

Version A was published one year after AS9100 was launched and was based on ISO 9001: 1994 and the newly released ISO 9001: 2000. This was to help organizations transition from the legacy model to the newest adaptation.

Version B was released four years later, in 2004, and based on ISO 9001: 2000 only. Five years later version C was announced, and was based on – yep, you guessed it – the recently updated ISO 9001: 2008. Version C remained in circulation for seven years, until 2016 when it was updated to AS9100 version D, in-line with ISO 9001: 2015.

AS9100D = ISO 9001:2015 + IAQG Requirements” – Compare AS9100D to ISO 9001:2015, AS9100 Store

AS9100 D and ISO 9001:2015 are both based on the high-level structure of Annex L, which is a set of rules, published by ISO, which creates a common framework for all ISO quality management systems.

I don’t know about you but my brain is scrambled after all that! Let’s take a quick break from the complex world of ISO and instead take a look at how the likes of NASA and Boeing are using AS9100.

Who uses AS9100?

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NASA strongly encourages all its spaceflight hardware and software suppliers to conform to AS9100 requirements. Boeing expects all its parts manufacturers to become AS9100 certified, and Airbus will only work with AS9100 registered parts and repair companies.

I’ve mentioned three big players within the aerospace industry that like their suppliers to follow AS9100 requirements, but it doesn’t matter what size your organization is, what level of the supply chain you’re in, or where in the world you’re operating from. AS9100 standards are for everyone.

The only two exceptions to this are Aviation Maintenance Organizations and Aerospace Distributors. They use a different set of Aerospace Standards: the AS9110 and the AS9120 respectively.

Let’s save those two standards for another time though, we need to take a better look at why these aerospace quality standards are needed…

Why is AS9100 needed?

When things don’t work as they should, it often means that standards are absent” – Standards, ISO

I know we’ve already touched on why the aerospace industry needs AS9100, but having an approved set of global standards, for the entire aerospace industry to follow, is so incredibly important that I wanted to drum it in a little further…

Have you ever been scared on a flight before?

I have.

I was flying home from a week in sunny Portugal with my mates on one of those budget airlines. It was towards the end of my seemingly normal flight when something went wrong.

The air cabin crew had prepared us for landing. We’d packed our tables away, fastened our seatbelts, and put our seats in an upright position. I had a window seat, so I was busy admiring the dull grey sky and Leeds city center (which was as equally dull and grey) when I heard a sharp cracking sound. This was quickly followed by a series of bumps and judders.

You know the saying “My heart was in my mouth“? That was exactly how I felt.

The cabin was shaking, the windows were rattling, we were hurtling towards the city, and my mind was racing. Oh god! The engine’s stopped. No! The wings have been damaged. No! A crow has flown into the propellers.. every single story I’d ever read about a plane crash flashed before my eyes.

And then we touched down. Without a problem. And I left the plane without a scratch, but on very wobbly legs.

I still don’t know what happened, which has always been a minor source of frustration and worry for me, but I do know something did go wrong. It wasn’t just turbulence. What consoles me is that whatever it was, they managed to fix it during the flight. And I think, now I know all about AS9100, that those practices had a big part to play in my experience.

Don’t believe me?

Well cast your minds back to life before AS9100

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1985. The year that brought us Live Aid, Windows 1.0, and the highest number of aviation deaths.

To put that into perspective, 1985 saw more than 900 fatalities involving airliners, whereas 2019 saw a total of 257 fatalities involving airliners.

Given the complexity of the products, regulatory nature of the industry, and the heavy dependence on many different companies within the supply chain to produce airplanes and complex weapons, to say AS9100 is needed is an understatement.

As an example, 1985 was not only the year with the highest number of aviation deaths, but it was also the year that saw the deadliest single-plane crash. A Boeing 747 crashed into a mountain, killing 520 people. The crash was caused by mechanical problems, specifically, a poorly repaired rear pressure bulkhead which ruptured mid-flight leading to a total loss of control.

We can never say for sure, but if AS9100 had been around back then, would those 520 people have survived?

If a problem happens in an aircraft, there could be a fatal crash; if a satellite fails after launch, there is no way to get it back for repairs; if a defense warning system fails, lives could be in danger.Mark Hammar, Applying AS9100 Rev D

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No other industry is as obsessively safety-conscious as the Aerospace industry. And rightly so!

Constantly under public examination, with higher risks than many other industries, and with little, or no room for error, strict quality control standards need to be followed in every aspect of the industry.

It’s therefore crucial for aerospace companies to partner with manufacturing suppliers that conform to the quality management system standards, defined by the international standard for quality management systems – ISO 9001.

Speaking of which, I’m ready to delve back into the world of ISO.

Although AS9100 is closely related to ISO 9001 and is often referred to as its younger sibling, they are slightly different in many ways. Like most siblings!

The 5 orbital differences between AS9100 and ISO 9001

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While we need to recognize the important role ISO 9001 played in the development of AS9100, to truly understand what AS9100 is and how it changed aerospace, it’s also important to appreciate how different the two quality management system standards are.

To talk about the differences between the two, we first need to understand what ISO 9001 is, where it came from and who uses it.

What is ISO 9001?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a non-governmental international organization that has a membership of 164 national standards bodies. ISO 9001 was created by this group of experts and is recognized worldwide as an acceptable basis for implementing a quality management system.

Where did ISO 9001 come from?

ISO first published its ISO 9001 standard in 1987. Developed through global consensus, it was initially created to standardize quality levels to break down barriers to international trade and help organizations provide consistent products and services, leading to customer satisfaction and continual improvement.

The ISO technical team reviews its ISO 9001 standards every 5 to 8 years to ensure it remains relevant to the demands of global business. The latest version of ISO 9001 (at the time of this post), was released in 2015 and has allowed organizations to approach their quality management systems and processes with more flexibility.

Organizations now have the freedom to create a whole library of individual quality management systems and processes, for specific departments or teams, as opposed to creating one big, huge, colossal quality management system that everyone in the business has to fit around. They have greater control over what processes they need and how to create them so they can work in an agile way and build out systems and processes designed to meet their business needs.

The newest version has also taken a giant leap into the 21st century, allowing organizations to utilize technology in ways they weren’t able to before. They can create, document and store their quality practices and procedures digitally.

We will cover this in more detail later, but take a sneaky peak at a process we created for auditing an ISO 9001 quality management system, using our very own BPM software:

Who uses ISO 9001?

The ISO 9001 quality management standard applies to industries such as manufacturing, processing, servicing, printing, forestry, electronics, steel, food processing, legal services, financial services, trucking, banking….. I mean, the list goes on. I think it’s safe to say that ISO 9001 standards apply to almost any industry you can think of.

Apart from aerospace…obviously.

So, now we understand the ISO 9001 basics, let’s uncover the key differences between AS9100 and ISO 9001.

The 5 key differences between AS9100 and ISO 9001

As we’ve established, AS9100 is the aerospace equivalent to the renowned ISO 9001. It contains all the ISO 9001 quality management standards but with some custom-made aerospace tweaks.

Below are five key differences between the two quality management system standards:

    1. Increased focus on manufacturing processes
    2. While ISO standards tend to focus primarily on the final product, AS9100 focuses on how the products are made. The AS9100 requirements underpin the safety, reliability, and regulatory compliance of the manufacture of aerospace products.

    3. Increased focus on risk during product planning
    4. As risk is a major factor in the aerospace industry, AS9100 includes additional requirements to manage risk. Risk identification procedures and assessments are carried throughout each requirement of the standard

    5. Tighter controls over production processes
    6. This is the biggest difference between the two quality management system standards. AS9100 includes a number of requirements around the control over changes to production processes, support after delivery, and specific product preservation methods which are common within the aerospace industry.

    7. Increased focus on design testing and documentation
    8. AS9100 includes additional requirements for increased testing and documentation during the design and development stages.

    9. Specific requirements around non-conforming processes
    10. AS9100 has more specific requirements on how to handle non-conformances and what corrective actions need to take place if a nonconformance is found.

But, despite these differences, AS9100 and ISO 9001 still remain tightly intertwined. The aerospace industry relies on AS9100 to maintain and develop a consistent quality management system at a low cost, the same way that general manufacturers rely on ISO 9001 to do exactly that.

The main objective for both sets of quality management standards is to ensure that suppliers and manufacturers operate at the highest level of quality and proficiency. To do that, it’s crucial that organizations implement and follow quality management processes. More on that later!

To find out more about ISO 9001, the below posts cover everything from the basics to how to implement it into your organization, complete with templates you can use, for free.

Feel free to check them out:

In the meantime, let’s get back to AS9100 and find out how, and why it pays to become AS9100 certified.

AS9100 certification, it’s not rocket science

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Although having an AS9100 certificate is not compulsory by law, if you work in the industry and you don’t have one, most aviation, space, and defense businesses wouldn’t touch you with a barge pole.

Compliance with AS9100 was previously considered as a competitive advantage, but it’s since become a necessary prerequisite to be considered for a contract” – Corli Leonard, University of Stellenbosch

That in itself is a huge benefit for becoming AS9100 certified, but let’s dig a little deeper…

Reasons to become AS9100 certified

As we’ve discovered, the aerospace industry has some unique requirements for quality management. This is why many companies that deliver products and services within the aviation, space, and defense spheres work hard to earn AS9100 certification.

Becoming AS9100 certified shows the world that your organization takes risk and quality management seriously. It will reassure your customers that you are meeting verifiable standards. It will open up marketplace opportunities for you, give you tighter operations, and it will provide you with a quality management standard that’s recognized throughout the entire world.

Take Glenn Research, suppliers of NASA, as an example. They say that AS9100 certification gives them:

The knowledge and confidence we are doing things the right way and our work is compatible with similar work going on at other NASA centers and with NASA contractors

Costs to become AS9100 certified

The cost to become AS9100 certified varies. It depends on the size and complexity of your organization and also on whether you already have some elements of a quality management system in place.

If you’re starting from scratch with no existing quality management system, you should expect to fork out for the following costs to earn your AS9100 certification:

  • Audit costs. The first cost is usually a full audit of your existing operation. This will establish what you need to do to become AS9100 compliant.
  • Implementation costs. Next, you will need to take the auditor’s advice and build, implement, and test a quality management system that meets the AS9100 requirements.
  • Consultant costs. It’s strongly advised that you get some outside help, in the shape of a consultant, to make sure you have fulfilled each and every one of the many AS9100 requirements

It’s not easy, it’s not cheap, and it’s a sacrifice–you’ve got to be willing to commit to it–but if you want to see your company go to the next level, I think it’s worth it” – Rusty Gwyn President, General Machine-Diecron

How to become AS9100 certified

Becoming “AS9100 Certified” means an organization has met the requirements of AS9100.

For a company to obtain AS9100 certification it must work with an independent auditor and provide evidence that its operations conform to the specific AS9100 quality management system requirements and that it will continue to do so in the future.

The four main requirements for AS9100 certification, are:

  • Planning for product realization
  • Design and development
  • Purchasing and purchased product (focusing on supplier control)
  • Product monitoring and measurements

And that’s it! We’ve covered what AS9100 is, where it came from and the importance of AS9100 within the aerospace industry. We’ve gone through the key differences between AS9100 and ISO 9001, and we’ve discussed what’s involved with becoming AS9100 certified.

So, what are you waiting for?!

Don’t worry! I understand. From the outset, AS9100 can seem like a daunting black-hole of best practices, standards, and requirements. It can be difficult to know where to start.

But what if I told you that AS9100 is only a simple set of processes. Does that help?

If so, keep reading…

AS9100 and Process Street: The sky’s the limit

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Wherever you are on your AS9100 journey, creating, implementing, and maintaining an aerospace quality management system using the requirements of AS9100 can be a complex task. It requires hard work, dedication, and a process-based approach to operations within your organization.

To meet each and every AS9100 requirement, you need to follow a process. To integrate a quality management system, in-line with AS9100 requirements, you need to follow a process. To obtain AS9100 certification, you need to follow a process. To upgrade to the newest version of AS9100, you need to follow a process. Catch my drift?

Well, lucky for you Process Street was built for creating processes.

This is Process Street and this is what we do

Process Street is super-powered checklists. It’s state-of-the-art business process management software that enables you to create a process for everything.

Before I divulge our trade secrets, take a look at this short introductory video:

So, in a nutshell, Process Street enables you to create a template and run individual checklists from that template to manage all your tasks. It allows you to connect to thousands of apps through Zapier, webhooks, or API integration and it gives you access to the following super-charged features that will automate the workflows within each of your processes, making recurring work fun, fast, and faultless:

While we’re on the topic of automating workflows, watch this to see how you can boost your workflows even more:

So, now you know who we are and what we do, let’s see how we can help you on your AS9100 journey.

How Process Street helps you with AS9100

As I said earlier, think of AS9100 as a simple set of processes.

You need processes to set-up your quality management system. Processes to help you get certified. Processes to keep you up-to-date with the latest AS9100 version, and processes that will enable you to maintain your AS9100 standards.

Now, as we know, ISO 9001: 2015 brought a great deal of flexibility and an agile approach to managing quality systems and processes. As AS9100 D is based on this newest version of ISO 9001, it applies to the aerospace industry too.

So for example, you may find that some processes need detailed procedure steps and extensive work instructions. Other processes may need fewer steps but more instructions.

You might determine that some of your processes need a lot of detailed planning from the beginning, but others can start straight away, with no formal planning, and take their shape as different stakeholders weigh in to determine what works and what doesn’t.

This is something called Agile ISO. The ability to create different processes, in different ways, to suit different business needs, and this is where Process Street comes into its own.

How to use Agile ISO with AS9100

Agile ISO lets you use software to slowly plan and build fully developed process libraries while also allowing you to quickly build new processes, repeat them rapidly over time, and update them as you go.

I can’t think of anyone better than Process Street to help you create, implement, and maintain your agile ISO AS9100 processes. Can you?

All you’d need to do is:

  • Build your processes
  • List out all the requirements that you need to fulfill as tasks. Keep it simple and improve them over time. Set due dates and assign these tasks to relevant departments to distribute the workload and give people accountability. Add in approval tasks to make sure tasks are completed to the necessary standards and signed off by the company leaders, and keep track of everyone’s progress via the built-in dashboard.

  • Create your folder structure
  • Put your processes into folders or subfolders and tag them so you have a whole library of quality management processes for each team or department. You can also manage permissions for folders so that some can be public and some private. Review our post on process libraries for inspiration.

  • Design your meta processes
  • Meta processes are processes that manage your other processes (Woah, that’s a lot of processes!) For example, you could create processes for process improvement, risk assessments, creating new processes, etc…

  • Create and store all your official policies and documentation
  • Create a folder in your process library and store your official policies and AS9100 documentation as templates, which you can then export as pdfs if you need to. The first official document you could create is your quality management system mini-manual.

Simple!

Ok, I know it’s probably not quite as simple as that.

So, to give you a helping hand with creating your own AS9100 processes, try this pre-made ISO 9001 internal audit checklist, for free, as a starting point (but don’t forget to add in the additional aerospace requirements we discussed earlier!):

This ISO-9000 structure template might be useful too. We’ve designed it to help organizations build standard operating procedures which adhere to the ISO-9001:2015 Quality Manual.

For further inspiration, check out this ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 Integrated Management System (IMS) checklist to see how you could merge AS9100 with another quality management system, like ASO 14001, and create a unifed integrated management system.

On top of those, there are a couple more pre-made ISO related processes that could be of use to you when you’re creating your own AS9100 templates. Take a look, see what you think:

ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Audit Checklist

You could use this process to facilitate continuous improvement of OHS performance, in the interest of preventing injury and ill-health.

ISO 9004:2018 Self-Audit Checklist

You could use elements of this checklist to get a high-level view of the performance of your organization, and the effectiveness of your management systems.

To truly get to grips with AS9100 and it’s ISO counterpart, cast your eyes over these related articles:

AS9100 related articles and blog posts

The aerospace industry is all about accountability, traceability, and documentation.

Process Street allows you to create agile processes that give everyone within the company full visibility of all workflows and tasks. It enables you to track progress and allows you to assign accountability to those that need it.

So, I hope you enjoyed your flight with us today. As we prepare for landing, let me leave you with this:

The aerospace industry finds itself in an especially unique position when it comes to quality standards because the industry’s products fly passengers through the air at high speeds — whether in commercial airliners within our atmosphere or in spacecraft beyond Earth’s bonds” – AS9100D-Certified Suppliers Keep Aerospace Companies Soaring, ProtoLabs

Sign up for a free trial with Process Street and start creating, managing, and meeting your AS9100 quality standards and requirements.

Fly safe.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with AS9100 in the comments below. Who knows? You may even get featured in an upcoming article!

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Amanda Greenwood

Amanda is a content writer for Process Street. Her main mission in life is to write content that makes business processes fun, interesting, and easy to understand. Her background is in marketing and project management, so she has a wealth of experience to draw from, which adds a touch of reality and a whole heap of depth to the content she writes.


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