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Many Asian manufacturers want to get mass production done as soon as possible in order to get paid – that’s where their interest lies. This can lead to the skipping of steps such as a First Article Inspection (FAI) which, if implemented at the start of mass production, can save you from disaster should issues be found.

A common mistake is to assume that your perfect pre-production sample will mean that mass production will be perfect. This is often not the case, as small, fixable, issues such as poorly set equipment, poorly positioned/loaded materials, poor assembly methods, and others, can quickly snowball once production has begun. But many unlucky importers don’t realize there’s even a problem until they have an entire batch of defective products.

If those issues are detected before shipment, the factory may resist re-working that batch. If there is no further inspection at the factory, the cost is even higher.

first article inspection

According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, the FAI provides “objective evidence that all engineering design and specification requirements are properly understood, accounted for, verified, and documented.”

Just after mass production begins, or during a pilot run, a Sofeast quality technician who is familiar with your product requirements takes the first piece(s) off the line or off a piece of equipment (sometimes off new tooling) and performs a comprehensive inspection on it.

The objective is to assure that the mass production process is starting the right way and is making good products. 

This will usually be planned for with your manufacturer and they will work with the technician to build the FAI into the start of production on the day that they attend their factory.

Every FAI project has its own unique aspects, but, in general, the process is as follows:

  • Our QA technician goes to the factory. At the same time, the factory is preparing for manufacturing the first few pieces based on their mass production methods, equipment, and operators.
  • Our QA technician checks if there are any open issues, specifications the manufacturers didn’t understand or couldn’t meet, etc.
  • Production starts slowly, the first few pieces come out.
  • Our QA technician checks those pieces against your specifications and the approved pre-production sample(s), in more depth than other in-process quality checks. 
  • If some issues are found, we inform the factory staff right away so they can do proper containment of defective goods and start implementing corrections. In most cases, production is halted until the point of cause is identified, a root cause is addressed, and another round of FAI (which can be part of the same booking if the turnaround is very quick) shows the results are effective.
  • If issues are found, we also try to understand why the factory didn’t catch those issues earlier (if that’s applicable).

We are often asked to conduct an FAI on tooling, mostly for plastic injection molding. In such FAIs, we typically check:

  • The structure of the first parts off tooling
  • Visual aspect on the parts (looking for common defects such as flash, burn mark, short shots, sink mark, visible weld line, flow mark, warping, crack mark, white mark, drag mark, mismatched mark, etc.
  • Whether parts are automatically separated from the runner, and whether they get “stuck” to the mold
  • The dimensions of the part (typically, full dimensions on 1 shot, and only critical dimensions on 5 shots)
  • If applicable, ease of assembly of the part(s)

If problems are found during the first article inspection, they are usually one or more of the following:

  • Wrong material/component is used
  • Poorly positioned/loaded material/component
  • Inconsistent quality of material/component
  • Wrong processing equipment used
  • Poorly set processing equipment
  • Inability to confirm if a part is acceptable or not

An FAI is commonly used on most types of hard goods where a new production is starting and volumes are moderate (for soft goods you will usually schedule a pre-production meeting instead).

  1. If you are working with a trusted manufacturer on a product they’re accustomed to producing, an FAI may not be needed.
  2. On small-quantity orders and/or low-complexity products.

For extra reassurance, you may bring in our engineers to your supplier’s factory to perform a production readiness review during the pilot run or start of production for the first batch.

They will check that the manufacturer has everything in place to go into mass production with a minimum of risks of defective products being made, such as assembly lines being set up properly, staff trained and good to go, materials available and correct, etc. This gives you peace of mind that production can start based on facts, rather than simply trusting your supplier (who may have selfish motives for rushing into mass production).

What does it cost?

For a first article inspection, we charge 299 USD per man-day in major areas of China, India, and Vietnam (and extra travel expenses apply in other places).

Ready to arrange your first article inspection? Click the button below to talk about it with us and get a quote.

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