Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Quality Management

We determined that ULA, SpaceX, and AR were not performing adequate quality assurance management for the EELV program as evidenced by the 181 nonconformities to the AS9100C at the EELV contractor production facilities. This inadequate quality assurance management could increase costs, delay launch schedules, and increase the risk of mission failure.

From ”

Evaluation of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program Quality Management System DODIG-2018-045, Department of Defense Office of Inspector General

It is useful to read audit reports and inspection findings from multiple industries. From this we can see trends, make connections and learn.

I see a few things that stand out.

DOD findings

Risk Register

Our evaluation of the RIO database showed that 11 out of 26 risks related to either Atlas V or Delta IV launch vehicle were in “red” status, which indicates that risk mitigation was behind schedule.

It is not enough to identify risks (though that is a critical place to start). You just can’t track them (though again, if you don’t track it you don’t see it). You actually have to have clear plans to mitigate and eliminate the risks. And this is where the program seemed to fall short.

Not a surprise. I think a lot of companies are having these difficulties. In the pharma world the regulatory agencies have been signaling pretty strongly that this is an issue.

Make sure you identify risks, track them, and have plans that are actually carried out to remediate.

Configuration Management

SpaceX failed to comply with AS9100C, section 7.1.3, which requires it to “establish, implement, and maintain a configuration management process.” Configuration management is a controlled process to establish the baseline configuration of a product and any changes to that product. This process should occur during the entire life cycle of a product to provide visibility and control of its physical, functional, and performance attributes.

First rule of reading inspection reports: Things probably went bad if a section starts with standard review 101 material.

That said, hello change management my dear friend.

This was the gist of my ASQ WCQI workshop last May, every industry needs good change management and change control.

Material Management

ULA and AR failed to comply with AS9100C, section 8.3, which requires them to “ensure that product which does not conform to product requirements are identified and controlled to prevent its unintended use or delivery.”

At ULA, we found 18 expired limited-life material items that were between 32 and 992 days past their expiration dates, but available for use on EELV flight hardware. This material should have been impounded and dispositioned. The use of expired limited-life items, such as glues and bonding agents, could result in product that does not meet specifications and may require costly rework.

I find it hard to believe that these companies aren’t tracking inventory. If they are tracking inventory and have any sort of cycle count process then the mechanism exists to ensure expired material is removed from the possibility of use. And yet we still see these observations across the pharma industry as well.

Concluding Thoughts

Quality Management has it its core the same principles, no matter the industry. We use similar tools. Leverage the best practices out there. Read about stresses other companies are having, learn from them and remediate at your own organization.

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