For Defense Programs, a New Standard for Manufacturing Management

By David Karr
SAE International — a global association of 137,000 industrial engineers and technical experts — recently published a commercial standard governing the implementation of best practices for the management of manufacturing operations.

Called AS6500, this manufacturing management program in many ways replaces the MIL-STD-1528A that was canceled as part of the Defense Department’s acquisition reform initiative in the mid-1990s. Until then, the department used the military standard in contracts to specify requirements, such as manufacturing feasibility assessments, producibility analyses, supplier management and production readiness reviews.

In the absence of MIL-STD-1528A, defense contracts were generally silent on manufacturing requirements. The department lost its ability to require a standardized approach to ensuring manufacturing processes were ready for development and production. Companies implemented a wide range of systems with an equally wide range of effectiveness. Subsequently, the Government Accountability Office identified the lack of manufacturing maturity on many programs as a root cause that led to cost overruns, schedule delays and quality problems.

Compared with the commercial industry, the Defense Department has been willing to accept more risk when it comes to a lack of manufacturing maturity when programs enter into the production phase. Commercial companies demonstrate that their manufacturing processes are stable and capable before they commit to a production decision. That has not always been the case with defense programs, and it is a situation that the Defense Department and industry are hoping to turn around with the publication of AS6500.

Senior industry leaders have told their government counterparts that when budgets are tight, they sacrifice manufacturing activities that are perceived to add cost in the near term because there are no specific customer requirements to perform those tasks, even though they are beneficial. This is especially true in competitive environments when offerors are reluctant to propose additional activities that are not specifically required in the request for proposals, or RFP. One industry leader said that he had to lay off all of his producibility engineers in the 1990s because of the perceived added cost. Manufacturing managers have the difficult job of justifying initiatives that will have long-term benefits, but will increase costs in the short term. By including AS6500 in RFPs, industry managers will have a customer requirement against which they can budget value-added, long-term improvements.

The Defense Department has recognized the need for improvement and standardization in the area of manufacturing management. However, unlike the quality management area, which has commercial standards such as ISO 9001 and AS9100, no government or commercial manufacturing management standards were available. As a result, the Defense Standardization Council approved the development of a manufacturing management standard and directed that the first priority for the development be a non-government standard. DSPO established a working group to identify potential standards developing organizations. In September 2013, the working group recommended and DSPO announced the selection of SAE International to develop the standard.

SAE already publishes and maintains several standards in related fields, such as AS9100, “Quality Management Systems–Requirements for Aviation, Space and Defense Organizations;” AS9102, “Aerospace First Article Inspection Requirement;” and AS9103, “Aerospace Series–Quality Management Systems–Variation Management of Key Characteristics.”

The group has a recognized, structured approach for document review and balloting that ensures all voices are heard and the resulting standard is technically sound.

SAE established a new panel, the G-23 Manufacturing Management Committee, in November 2013 to develop the standard. The committee’s charter states it is “responsible for the development, coordination, publication and maintenance of a standard that documents best manufacturing practices aimed at promoting the timely development, production, modification, fielding and sustainment of affordable products.”

The G-23 Committee, which had Defense Department and industry subject matter experts, invited industry associations to review the document and provide feedback. Two rounds of detailed reviews of the document were conducted over eight months, and the committee addressed nearly 350 comments. In November 2014, the Aerospace Council approved the standard for publication.

AS6500 applies to all phases of the system acquisition life cycle and is intended for use on all programs with manufacturing content. It describes both the tools to measure manufacturing maturity and the activities that should be conducted to successfully mature the manufacturing processes. The standard covers manufacturing planning, design analysis, operations management (including supplier management) and manufacturing risk identification. It includes specific practices, such as producibility analyses, identification of key characteristics and process failure modes and effects analyses.

A key element of AS6500 is the use of manufacturing readiness levels, or MRLs, to assess the maturity of manufacturing processes and components. MRLs have become the generally accepted approach among the services and many defense companies to determine manufacturing readiness and identify risks. MRL determinations are made through the evaluation of nine topic areas or “threads,” arranged in a matrix of objective criteria that reflects the growing expectation for product maturity as a program progresses through its life cycle. The threads, criteria and matrix were developed by an MRL working group consisting of members of the office of the secretary of defense, military services, Defense Acquisition University and industry. AS6500’s adoption of this approach will further ingrain MRLs into the defense industrial base.

Suppliers perform a significant amount of development and production, so many delivery and quality problems begin at lower-tier vendors before they become apparent to the prime contractor. AS6500 not only addresses in-house manufacturing management of prime contractors, but also their management of suppliers.

The standard requires organizations to establish and maintain supplier management systems to evaluate the capabilities of suppliers, track and report supplier performance, and identify and manage supplier risks. The standard also focuses on ensuring the quality of parts delivered by suppliers by flowing down quality requirements, verifying suppliers’ procedures for controlling quality and using predictive indicators to provide early detection of potential quality problems at suppliers.

AS6500 goes hand-in-hand with AS9100 as well as with several other commercial standards: AS9102; AS9103; AS5553, “Fraudulent/Counterfeit Electronic Parts; Avoidance, Detection, Mitigation and Disposition;” and J1739, “Potential Failure Mode and Effects Analysis in Design (Design FMEA), Potential Failure Mode and Effects Analysis in Manufacturing and Assembly Processes (Process FMEA).” AS6500 complements AS9100 by providing more detailed application requirements for manufacturing and supplier management. It also incorporates key elements of AS9102, AS9103, AS5553 and J1739 and refers the users to those standards for more detailed guidance.

AS6500 must be included in statements of work to be contractually binding. The standard may be tailored to meet the needs of each program’s unique situation. Requirements within the standard are designed to reduce program life-cycle costs. Those that are not specifically applicable may be eliminated or adapted to fit the program. For example, the requirements for design analysis may not be appropriate when applying the standard in a mature production program.

Although the standard is primarily aimed at the defense industrial base, the G-23 committee made every effort to write the requirements as generically as possible so that other industries may use the standard. The committee also designed the standard to be applicable to companies of nearly any size, allowing adaptation of the requirements appropriate to the level of effort, the complexity of the product and the size of the supplier. The standard’s requirements are intended to be top level, providing each company the flexibility to implement its own processes to meet the requirements.

AS6500 will help the Defense Department’s Better Buying Power initiative. Key tenets of BBP include achieving affordable programs, controlling costs throughout the life cycle, incentivizing productivity and eliminating unproductive processes. The standard puts early focus on production costs, the implementation of continuous improvement and lean manufacturing processes. Since a significant portion of a program’s life-cycle cost is driven by manufacturing activities, increased effectiveness in manufacturing management will lead to overall program affordability.

Application of AS6500 in the early phases of development and production may require additional resources. But the investment will pay off in the long term by driving down the cost of development and production through improved quality, higher schedule confidence and more producible products. Savings during development and production will far outweigh the investments required in early phases, resulting in an overall reduced program life-cycle cost.

David Karr is the technical advisor for manufacturing and quality in the Engineering Services Directorate at the Air Force’s Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Topics: Business Trends, Manufacturing

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