Keys of the process of First Article Inspection (FAI)

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When companies make the decision to produce, a series of actions aimed at reducing risk and ensuring that production is successful are put into operation.

One of them is the work related to the development of the first article. Despite its name, the first inspected item may not necessarily be the first to be produced, but rather an item or a random sample of parts from a first batch.

However, how to ensure that the final product is exactly as it was projected? For this to happen, there is a method known as first article inspection (FAI), where the complete design requirements and engineering specifications, the manufacturing process and documentation are verified with referenced documentary evidence to ensure that the first article is exactly as it was planned.

The importance of FAI for the productive process

When it comes to mass production, both the approved sample and the first article play a fundamental role because they allow to have a very complete idea of ​​the final product.

Having an approved sample before production starts allows the manufacturer to express customer expectations and analyze whether each specification is understood. In turn, this allows for an internal reference for quality control and quality assurance.

For that reason, conducting a first article inspection (FAI) aims to verify the design and file its history, providing a formal and informed measurement for each manufactured feature of a part or assembly, thus avoiding waste or rework in a later phase.

How is a FAI required?

Inspection of the first article is generally requested in a purchase order contract between the producer and the buyer of a manufactured item. Typically, the supplier performs the FAI and the buyer reviews or approves an evaluation report that ensures that all properties and features meet their specifications, for example a drawing.

Today, with the use of computers in the manufacturing environment, first article inspections are no longer used with the traditional three-form paper design. They are digitally recorded and stored on servers for easy access and organization. And with mobile technology, it is even possible to create and apply a completely customized form, which meets the specific needs of each company.

Advantages of FAI

Among the advantages FAI offers is ensuring that requests are well understood and that production is done efficiently with the right materials and the right processes.

This is a form of control over the different suppliers, maintaining strict supervision over the orders that are made. In addition, it allows finding solutions when there are production problems in the initial stage of manufacturing, which helps to take early action on the production process, helping to control and organize the itinerary avoiding possible delays.

The underlying idea is to be able to review the quality of the raw materials and components that are used in production, the first samples of production according to the specifications of the approved samples, the cooperation of the factory, the understanding of all requests by the factory, the production schedule and its internal quality control processes.

How to make an efficient FAI?

The first article inspection can be applied to purchase orders, purchase schedules, and manufacturing.

The first article inspection process considers the following stages:

  • Preparation – where needs and requirements are identified.
  • Inspection plan – which details a road map for all the process, in correspondence with the maker.
  • Fabrication – where PCB is produced according to determined specifications.
  • Data gathering – inspection of the fabricated piece according to the inspection plan, and follow-up of the tools involved in the process.
  • Creation of a FAI report – where all the steps in the process are included.

A FAI verification list must be created, which considers the following aspects:

  • Quality
  • Quantity
  • Fabrication process
  • Equipment
  • Templates
  • Solder joints
  • Polarity
  • Packages
  • Electrical connections

FAI can be implemented partially or completely. The latter applies when a new product is introduced. Partial FAI also applies when:

  • A feature of a product is modified or added.
  • Changes in the fabrication process are done (for instance, tools, machinery or personnel).
  • Changes are done in the fabrication documentation.
  • A change is done in the location of the supplier.

This partial first article inspection (FAI) only requires a FAI listing for the changed feature or changes made to the manufacturing process or documentation process.

Master data setup

Master data setup is used to enable a first article inspection for a product, and create a FAI rule that is used to link an article to a specific business partner, a receiver warehouse, and a standard test procedure. It is made up of four phases that we review below:

  • Phase 1 – at this stage, the parameters that will guide the inspection to be carried out must be specified.
  • Phase 2 – in this step you have to define the item for which you want to enable the FAI. You can also specify the owner of the FAI rule in this session. At this stage it is also possible to indicate if the FAI needs to be enabled for a family of articles.
  • Phase 3 – where the item is linked to the standard test procedure or to a quality group.
  • Phase 4 – in which a first item inspection rule is created, which acts as a trigger to create the FAI document.

FAI in the technological industry

In the technological area, specifically in the production of printed circuit boards (PCBs), FAI is considered a standard procedure that seeks to guarantee that the product complies with the parameters sent to the manufacturer.

This allows detecting a series of changes in the design parameters of a PCB, for example:

  • Any change in the location of the fabrication of the PCB
  • Possible changes in the form, possible changes in the form, gear, and assembly of the PCB
  • Prospective changes in the fabrication process of the PCB
  • Any change in the configuration of production and fabrication machines of the PCB
  • Possible changes in the operative skills and experience
  • Any interruption in the fabrication process during long intervals of time
  • Possible alterations in the expected performance
  • Possible changes in the revision and age factors

Regardless of the industry in question, FAIs are a critical part of a successful production process. They allow to verify a series of design requirements, engineering specifications, and the manufacturing process as a whole, thus guaranteeing that an article complies exactly with the indications of who created it. An indispensable tool, which today can be designed totally in a digital form, and which guarantees a fundamental step for the success of a productive management.

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Antonio Frieser

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