In the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and aerospace manufacturing industry, we have many quality and inspection department leaders who are committed to the practice and process of ensuring the best quality products leave the plant. Whether winglets, airline seats, lavatory parts, or tiny screws used in thousands of applications, the quality must be precise. But, according to the media and political leaders in many countries, dissent abounds. People have grievances and frustrations, and there have been many market changes in the past couple of years. When a company like yours, or one like Erickson, is faced with this environment, how can we ensure quality? It must be a part of our everyday experience and expectations for ourselves and employees. In a conversation with Erickson’s Quality Assurance and Inspection departments, it is easy to hear the pride in the voices of the five department leaders. But it is not boastful pride. It is the type of pride that comes with confidence in understanding and knowing that you are doing your best in everything you do
Lives are at stake
When you think of an OEM like Erickson, it is easy to understand why it is essential to have thoroughly vetted and secured products and services in place. The very lives of pilots and crew members are at stake in everything offered by these departments. As an OEM, Erickson is responsible for saving lives and property worldwide. They are tasked with ensuring that when parts go out to a customer, or are added to an S-64 Air Crane® helicopter for aerial firefighting and other missions, that everything goes according to plan. There is no room for error in aerospace, and this team practices rich enforcement of rules and procedures to ensure the best support for no-fail missions. An incredible team and stringent adherence to the rules may be one reason the organization can maintain multiple industry certifications, including:
• FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Repair Station Certificate, Part 145
• FAA Production Approval Holder (PAH), Part 21 (Multiple Production Certificates)
• FAA Air Carrier and Operator, Part 135 • FAA Rotorcraft External Load Operators, Part 133
• European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Part 145
• Transport Canada Repair Station, Part 145
• Quality Management Systems – Aerospace Standard – AS9100D
• Quality Management Systems – Aerospace Standard – AS9110C
• Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) 8210 • Aerospace Welders Certifications – AWS (American Welding Society) D17.1
Certifications are essential to maintaining quality standards
quality standards In this industry, the success of many programs is assured by certifications. Businesses like yours may already have the correct certifications. It can take hundreds of hours to both apply for and complete certifications whether for EASA or the FAA, or other standards. It is a time and financial commitment both to understand the rules and document regulations. Pride in achievement can be a driver to higher standards. Erickson’s Director of Quality Wes Hurless said: “In a nutshell, we maintain certifications in the art of doing business in these areas. Without many of these certifications, we would not be able to provide maintenance, manufacturing, or distribution of parts. You must maintain a regulatory compliance platform that is certificated and audited by the FAA and other regulatory bodies to be open/ operating.” In addition to certifications, audits play a huge role in accountability. Certified auditors conduct routine surveillance of all external service providers within a Part 135 operation.
Defining standards to measure success can keep a team on track with quality
At Erickson, there are 50 inspectors, internal auditors, calibration technicians, supplier quality auditors, CASS (Continuing Audit and Surveillance System) auditors, airworthiness compliance analysts, and more with the department heads. Some are direct members of the quality assurance team, and some have other roles and collateral duty responsibilities to quality and auditing. The team must inspect machined parts, components and products coming in from suppliers, and ensure that aircraft are ready for service after maintenance is performed. They all measure success differently. Wes Hurless ensures quality support to the business unit leaders across the Erickson organization, providing the quality department with clear direction and leadership through opportunities, training, and progressive challenges. He seeks success by reviewing the team for continuous improvement. He is looking for active learning and discovery regarding the auditing and inspection processes. He operates with a well-balanced methodology to continue to improve processes, products, and culture in his department
Coaching and mentoring employees can drive focus
Erickson’s Aerospace Internal Auditor Wendy Acup manages the internal audit program and conducts audits with a team of auditors for compliance with FAA Regulatory (PC (Parts Chart), RS/EASA), certificate (AS9100/AS9110), company and customer (DCMA, Sikorsky, Bell) requirements. Success measurement for Acup means being able to identify areas that require improvements and coach and mentor employees. Taking the coaching approach has educated employees and made the discoveries and solutions more successful. Maintenance Quality Manager Kevin Howell, meanwhile, said certifications are necessary because: “It allows us to meet or exceed our customers’ expectations; creates a higher level of quality in an organization.” Regarding employee accountability in maintaining quality standards, he said: “Implementing corrective action plans are running at 12 days (about one week and five days), which shows the successful effort and implementation of process changes in the organization.” Hurless noted that in some instances it took months before the process owners submitted corrective action plans. However, due in part to the continued emphasis on developing an internal customer-centric culture, process owners are routinely responding within an average of 12 days. This response time is one of the quality team’s key performance indicators that is measured and is meeting and exceeding the goal.
When things are unpredictable, focus on quality systems
f you have seen a change in your organization in recent history – postpandemic apathy, changing economic dynamics, and/or an unpredictable environment – a review and overhaul of quality management systems might help. Overall, the quality and inspection teams must work in collaboration with each other and their internal and external customers. There is no room for error in this work, and they must be thorough, procedural, and strict with adherence to all certification standards. This work is mission-critical to Erickson, Inc., and allows pilots and crew to go out successfully in the world to solve big problems. They also ensure that quality and safety standards are met for customers who purchase aircraft, products, and services from Erickson.