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First Article Inspection is one of the most important milestones in a product’s journey from concept to manufacture. It is supplementary to product qualification and certification. This inspection is to confirm that the final product, or final pilot run, matches the intended design and is consistent with that tested and/or certified earlier in the process.

New  product qualification

To make sure that products meet the buyer’s quality expectations, they undergo a programme of qualification, a pre-production PROTOCOL TESTING programme. This checks whether it meets essential requirements such as safety, compliance and its own functional statement, as well as product/client specific details such as performance and reliability. From basic to top-of-the-range products, the protocol testing programme typically evaluates EE product characteristics including:

  • Compliance - e.g. EMC, hazardous substances, etc.
  • Safety - e.g. LVD, etc.
  • Aesthetics - e.g. defined colour, finishing, ID, etc.
  • Functional performance - e.g. acoustic performance testing for audio products, etc.
  • Reliability - e.g. durability, water/dust proof, etc.
  • Compatibility - e.g. works well with other devices, etc.
  • Usability – e.g. ease of use, etc.
  • Serviceability – e.g. ease of repair/upgrade, etc.
  • Eco-performance – e.g. eco-friendly, etc.

A new product qualification process does not need to address all these elements – the exact list will reflect a product’s positioning in the market and its brand strategy. Depending on the chosen characteristics and outcomes, this process can take just a few weeks, but may take longer if issues are identified and need to be resolved.

Challenge

In reality, inconsistencies often exists at a certain level, between the preproduction testing samples and the actual products from mass production line. These inconsistencies can be caused by (among others):

  • Use of non-approved materials/components due to a change in the vendor’s supply chain
  • Use of different methods between sample making and mass production
  • Variation in workmanship
  • Changes to manufacturing method(s)
  • Differences between the samples used at the product qualification stage

Inconsistencies can cause serious consequences. They can render the product qualification process and protocol testing pointless. To ensure this does not occur, the process gap must be minimized.

First article inspection (FAI)

Today, First Article Inspection (FAI) is considered the most effective way to seamlessly connect the product qualification process to the production quality management process. As a result, FAI has been widely adopted by most leading EE companies, especially in the ODM and OEM business model, where the product is produced by a contract manufacturer.

How FAI works

The FAI validates whether the actual product from the first mass production line, or the final pilot run, is consistent with the following items of the previous qualification process:

  • Critical components and construction parameters, as recorded in compliance and safety, reliability testing reports
  • Functional performance parameters measurement result, as recorded in the functional performance testing report

This validation ensures consistency of a product’s major engineering and functional performance between the approved sample and the actual product. Selected testing items can also be validated, for example, Hi-pot, earth continuity, EMC, transportation simulation, hazardous substance and energy efficiency, as variances in production may impact them.

Additional full function and appearance inspection is also recommended on the first batch of 50–100 units. This allows for evaluation of a new product’s manufacturability by assessing the defect rate and failure mode and also helps to drive the product’s progress to maturity.

Product consistency inspection (PCI)

PCI looks beyond FAI. It addresses issues relating to assuring consistency in ongoing production. The key checking points of PCI are similar to FAI, including a focus on validation of critical components, construction parameters, functional performance measurement and selected testing items validation related to safety, EMC, hazardous substances and energy efficiency, amongst others. The inspection frequency can be determined according to several factors, such as the historical performance of the factory, the product itself and/or overall risk assessment of the business and product quality.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Q: Why Can't First Article Inspection be Conducted Using the Approved Sample Only?

There are three main reasons:

  • The approved sample is usually approved based on partial testing, e.g. functional performance testing, compatibility and/or usability testing, so it cannot reflect all key aspects of the defined quality requirements
  • It is impossible to disassemble the approved sample for all critical component and construction comparison
  • It is not efficient for data measurement, as the inspector has to measure the approved sample first in order to have the data

As a result, the FAI needs to be completed in accordance with the records/reports of the product qualification process.  However, the approved sample is still a good reference for defect judgment.

Q: Our Inspection Includes a Function Check Already.  Why is the Functional Performance Measurement Still Important?

To answer this question, we need to clarify the difference between function and functional performance. For example, a speaker’s main function is to enable consumers to listen to music.  However, the sound quality is measured by acoustic performance parameters like THD, frequency response level and signal to noise rate. The function check validates whether a product works, or not, while functional performance checks measure how good it is and is one of the most important pillars to support your product and brand positioning.

If you expect to make sure your product performance is consistently “good” to your defined standards (the level of “good” that you will accept), it is an effective and efficient way to measure and track the functional performance parameters regularly.

Q: How are Functional Performance Criteria Established?

Across the industry, there are three main methods to establish performance criteria:

  • Some leading brands establish their functional performance criteria according to the results of their research into the technology and consumer analysis
  • A lot of companies set criteria in accordance with their market research, the performance benchmark of existing products in the market, plus their own product and brand planning
  • Some companies follow the standards specified by an industry organisation (national or international)

There may be other unique approaches in the market, but these are the typical ones.

Besides helping customers with FAI/PCI, SGS’s performance labs help customers defining as per method 2 mentioned above.  We support them with product performance benchmarking in order to establish their own functional performance criteria.

Comparsion Among Final Random Inspection, First Article Inspection and Product Consistency Inspsection. 

FINAL RANDOM INSPECTION

FIRST ARTICLE INSPECTION

PRODUCT CONSISTENCY INSPECTION

 

Objective

Detect obvious engineering change 

Assess defect rate

Ensure the first article from production line is consistent with what was tested, certified and approved

Assess whether the new product is ready for mass production

Ensure no major engineering change to the latest product approval and the functional performance measurement is consistently aligning to established specification

Scope & Sample Size   

Primary engineering verification: 1-3 units

Function & ppearance check: normal level of sampling plan

Special test covers limited selected items: 3-5 unit

Deep engineering verification: 3-5 units

Full/selected functional performance measurement: 5-20/20-100 units

Function & appearance check: first 50-100 units

Special test covers more selected items: 3-5 units

Deep engineering verification:3-5 units

Full or selected functional performance measurement: 3-5 units

Function & appearance check: 3-5 units

Special test covers more selected items: 3-5 units

On-site vs. in-lab

 Mainly on-site, some could be in-lab, if necessary

Mainly on-site, some could be in-lab, if necessary

 
For further information, please contact:

Kent Wang
Integrated Quality Solutions
Consumer Testing Servce / E&E
SGS North America, Inc.
t: +1 770 570 1807

 


Primary engineering verification: 1-3 units

Function & ppearance check: normal level of sampling plan

Special test covers limited selected items: 3-5 unit