Controlling FOD In A Manufacturing Environment – Part 1

by PHILIP J. MESSENGER

AS9100 Auditor
AS 9100 Auditor

Manufacturing products for aerospace differs from other assembly operations by the strict requirements of product integrity and the processes used to assure safety and reliability. The potential of introducing foreign objects into the product during fabrication is very high. Without considering tools, employee personal items, drill filings/chips and all the other possible contributors to FOD, the number of fasteners used to assemble the structure and install components can measure in at hundreds of thousands. It takes only one fastener in the wrong place to cause an incident resulting in loss of the aircraft and/or loss of life. Supervisors and workers cannot merely be told or expected to build a FOD free product. FOD controls and prevention practices must be established and enforced throughout the entire build process if product integrity is to be assured.

In manufacturing, cost often drives schedule. After all, to continue building any product it must be profitable. FOD controls often impact costs and schedules. Implementation and maintenance of controls should be planned and formalized as part of the product manufacturing scheme—not as an unpleasant afterthought when things go wrong.

Some of the possible costs to establish and operate an effective FOD Control Program include, but are not limited to:

  • Training
  • Equipment
  • Design changes
  • Procedural changes
  • Workplace organization
  • Tool and hardware controls
  • Inspections
  • Adequate manpower to oversee and maintain the program

But what about the savings? They’re yours to claim with a commitment to FOD controls. Once established, an effective program reduces rework, scrap and incidents. Want increased customer satisfaction and sales? What about reputation and the pride of building the best product you can? What about beating the competition and increasing market share? Even if an effective FOD Program hasn’t been planned and implemented previously in your operation, the time to start is now. FOD control is quality. FOD control is safety. FOD control is integrity. The savings and benefits far outweigh the costs and time expended.

Design

Although manufacturing controls are necessary to prevent the introduction of FOD, the design of the structure and sub-assemblies plays a vital role in the ability to inspect and remove foreign objects during and after assembly. If fortunate enough to plan a new product or assembly line, Design Engineering should incorporate FOD removal into each aircraft zone. A “Design Checklist” with buy off from Manufacturing Engineering is required.

Design is your first and best opportunity to eliminate FOD from the delivered product by planning for inspections, cleaning of cavities and designing out entrapment areas. For older/ existing structures that didn’t plan FOD Prevention into the product, modifications and overhaul planning should require FOD inspection/removal steps to be incorporated into each package.

Some aircraft contain known FOD entrapment areas that are impossible to inspect or clean. These aircraft are accidents waiting to happen and should be redesigned and modified or dropped from service. Knowing of foreign objects in a flight article and/or the potential for damage is next to sin — it cannot be ignored. The responsibility to identify and report the potential for FOD lies with each individual involved in any phase or process. Management should solicit all employees to report potential FOD as they would any safety or quality concern, and should request design changes if feasible to assure product integrity. Repeat: Design stage is the very best opportunity to keep FOD out of the delivered product.

Management Responsibilities

Management must be supportive of and responsible for the FOD Prevention Plan and its implementation. All applicable policies and procedures, training programs and operational guidelines must include FOD reminders and controls.

Management must demand effective corrective action for FOD incidents, problem areas, and negative trends. Without upper management support and encouragement, FOD Prevention is “just another program” or passing notion. Strong, deliberate enforcement and backing are necessary if compliance is to become reality.

Within the organizational scheme, the FOD Program manager or coordinator should have similar rank/authority as the Safety or Quality manager and should be independent from manipulation or bias from other operational units such as Assembly or Test. Some successful programs have FOD reporting to the Quality or Safety manager, but FOD Program management deserves the same status and recognition as those disciplines. Having all three placed within one organizational unit may be the best profile as they share many similarities such as: inspections for compliance, “shut down” authority, data collection/trends, customer interface, awareness (promotion) and employee recognition.

Organizational Chart
Organizational Chart

The FOD Department

SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and operational guidelines must be developed and kept current. FOD inspections are required for panel closeouts, manufacturing process spot checks and procedure compliance. Investigations of FOD incidents/mishaps can only be performed by an organization with an unbiased eye. FOD inspection/removal equipment must be operated and maintained by trained specialists. Audit and incident data must be collected, entered into a database, information sorted into various report formats, posted on status boards and distributed to key personnel. Corrective actions for problems/issues must be tracked and verified as effective. Meetings and briefings must include both management and workers. FOD training programs must be developed and conducted annually (minimum requirement). Awareness and recognition programs must be administered for vitality and worker involvement. This is a formidable list of “musts,” but all of these elements are necessary to adequately support an effective FOD control effort.

Without a dedicated unit to conduct these activities, the burden on any other organizational unit(s) is difficult, if not impossible, to support. Many companies have tried part-time programs, with FOD Monitors assigned to check work areas at intervals during and at the end of each shift, but these efforts are weak at best. If this approach is used, volunteers should be solicited, not appointed at random. Even when executed and controlled by a conscientious FOD supervisor or coordinator, a part-time FOD effort invariably falls short of a staffed full-time unit.

There is no other way to say it: Effective FOD Prevention is an investment and a commitment.

The number of people required to support a full-time FOD effort will vary depending on the type of operation, number of aircraft in production, the level of FOD control required, and of course, budget available. As a rule of thumb, consider having an inspector for every five aircraft in production. In addition, a clerk to handle data entry/retrieval and a supervisor/manager to oversee the operation is necessary. FOD is serious business. Don’t try to avoid doing it right. Appoint a fully staffed FOD department and give it the authority, support and tools needed to do the job without compromise.

Continue to Controlling FOD In A Manufacturing Environment – Part 2

Want to learn more? Contact us for guidance on developing your FOD prevention program.