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First Article Inspection: What It Is + Why You Need It

| Ask an Engineer

When you’re manufacturing your product — the designs are complete, products are sourced and assemblies are, well, assembled — you want to be sure your product works exactly as intended.

There are several steps involved in qualification review and quality control. One step that while optional is incredibly valuable in the First Article Inspection (FAI). In some instances, there may confusion about the difference between FAI and a Qualification review and you may seem these terms used interchangeably. However, it’s important to understand the distinction between both types of review and how they work together.

To help better clarify the difference and outline the value FAI can bring to your production, let’s take a closer look at the process.

What is First Article Inspection?

First Article Inspection, or FAI for short, is a thorough third-party review process of up to five parts from the first mass produced production run to verify the design and functionality. During FAI, the inspector will review the original manufacturing specifications provided by the client, cross referencing the original purchase order — which includes those details — with the manufactured parts to ensure they meet the exact order specifications. The entire process is carefully documented in an official FAI report.

What Does an FAI Report Include?

The FAI report includes three forms, along with bubble drawings (also called ballooned drawings) to help support the details on the forms.

Form 1: Parts

The first form includes the part number and is used to provide a summary of the part being inspected, any associated sub-assemblies and/or detail parts.

Form 2: Product

The second form includes details about the raw materials, product specifications, processes and functional tests that have been designated as a design requirement.

Form 3: Characteristics

The third form includes the design details, specifications and characterizes, including details such as tolerance and drawing notes. The bubble drawings are used to support this form.

Bubble Drawings

These highly detailed drawings include labels for each design characteristic requirement — identified by a circle, or bubble, around the label — that correspond with numbers on the third form. These drawings, which are also referred to as ballooned drawings, can be done by hand or using specialized software.

When is a First Article Inspection Needed?

While FAI is not a qualification requirement, there are several instances in which it would be highly recommended. Investing in FAI when the following events occur will help ensure your that your product is created with a consistent level of quality.

  • A new part is introduced
  • A new supplier, location or manufacturer is introduced
  • Design revisions impact function or form
  • Changes to the manufacturing, assembly, inspection or testing processes, including significant changes to the manufacturing equipment
  • An extended break or pause in manufacturing production (typically two or more years)

FAI is most commonly requested in the aerospace, military and defense fields; however, the inspection can be valuable across industries. Investing in the detailed inspection upon a first production run allows you to identify any potential issues up front and move forward with mass production and product launch confidently. As a full-service contract manufacturing service provider, Alert Tech SMT can also provide FAI for customers in need of an inspection. Contact our team to learn more.