The use of composites over the last 30 years in commercial aircraft has evolved from less than 5% to approximately 50% by structural weight. It is estimated that the global aerospace industry will use $57 billion worth of composite materials in the next 20 years. As a result, a specific Nadcap oversight group has been implemented and has grown significantly in its four years of operation.



Nadcap is the leading worldwide cooperative program of major companies designed to manage a cost-effective consensus approach to special processes and products and provide continuous improvement within the aerospace and automotive industries. The not-for-profit Performance Review Institute (PRI) administers Nadcap.

The composites accreditation program is one of 15 special process and product programs operating within Nadcap. The Composites Task Group (CTG) was formally implemented in May 2004. During my term as chairperson, the program has seen significant growth. In fact, the number of audits conducted annually has grown from only four in the Americas sector in 2004 to an anticipated 147 audits worldwide in 2008. This means that the composites program now accounts for 3.5% of all Nadcap audits conducted throughout the world.

Number of composite audits shows the growth of Nadcap composites program globally.

Composites Task Group

In 2006, the CTG expanded its scope to include non-metallic materials testing. At the July 2007 Nadcap meeting, it was decided to grow this further to include raw-materials suppliers as well as testing providers. Andreas Mastorakis, process value engineer at GE Aviation, championed this effort as chair of the Non-Metallics Group. He explained, “To develop the CTG in this way was a logical step. I am now working with colleagues to establish baseline criteria with my fellow industry representatives – both primes and suppliers – to ensure that consistently excellent standards are maintained throughout the world.”

Another significant achievement is that the CTG has the highest number of supplier voting members of any Nadcap task group. These 35 supplier representatives work with the primes to determine audit criteria and develop related documentation. This level of engagement is impressive and indicative of the commitment of the whole industry to quality and continual improvement.

List of prime subscribers to the Nadcap composites program and the regions in which they have requested/mandated their suppliers to obtain Nadcap accreditation for composites

Benefits of Nadcap

Clearly, participation in Nadcap is a significant commitment. So why is it important to be actively involved in the Nadcap program?

For Bombardier Aerospace, the opportunity to work with other leading aerospace manufacturers in contributing to, and benefiting from, consistent global-industry excellence is invaluable. Nadcap enables us to have a robust special-process and product supply chain while eliminating non-value-added activities. For our company, Nadcap facilitates internal and industry-wide oversight to achieve our goal of zero escapes due to special processing anywhere in the supply chain. The Nadcap system allows us to focus our resources on Bombardier Aerospace’s specific issues and concerns based on risk potential while enabling us to retain responsibility and accountability for the quality of our products throughout the supply chain. Being involved at every level of the Nadcap organizational structure means that the company is truly part of this industry-managed consensus approach to special-process and product quality assessment.

There are other ways for primes to participate in the Nadcap program, as it is not only aerospace suppliers who undergo Nadcap audits. The NUCAP program provides major aerospace companies with the opportunity to strengthen internal quality procedures, assisted by independent technical experts. In this way, they can better appreciate the supplier perspective and raise their credibility among suppliers about their commitment to Nadcap. The increasing popularity of the NUCAP program has seen aerospace primes including Alenia Aeronautica SpA, Bombardier Aerospace, EADS-CASA, Honeywell Aerospace and Vought Aircraft attain NUCAP approval.

Speaking in April 2007, Pedro Arroyo Perfumo, head of materials and processes quality of EADS-CASA MTAD, explained: “Special processes are extremely critical processes that require maintaining a constant stress to steer all our manufacturing systems toward the excellence in manufacture and process control. Both NUCAP and Nadcap programs, as an internal method and as means of control in the case of suppliers, are great tools chosen by EADS-CASA to move toward this quality commitment. We are very proud of achieving NUCAP approval and of the fact that 85% of our suppliers already have Nadcap certification. Actually, I am convinced that the control of our special processes has been improved due to Nadcap criteria.”

The organizational chart of PRI/Nadcap

Nadcap Audit Specifics

But what actually happens in a Nadcap composites audit? The Nadcap auditor, who is on site for an average of four days depending on the scope of the audit, conducts a number of job audits. Currently there are four methods that a company can include in their audit: Prepreg/Adhesive Bonding/Resin Film Infusion, Metal Bonding, Core Processing and Liquid Resin Processing. Each job audit is specific to a process and covers areas such as receiving quality control, tool preparation, pattern cutting and kitting, lay-up/laminating, resin preparation and mixing, liquid resin infusion, cure, machining, trimming, drilling, miscellaneous bonding and process control/revalidation testing.

Steve Keck is a Nadcap auditor who started his career with Grumman Aerospace as a materials and process engineer. Over the past 25 years, he has worked with a prime and also in manufacturing as a supplier to both the aerospace and automobile industries.

“I have met suppliers all over the world who share a common goal – using the Nadcap audit experience as a tool to improve the performance of their companies and to better satisfy their customers,” Keck said. “This makes the audits a win-win experience. I get to help the suppliers identify opportunities for improvement, and I am exposed to unique technologies/process approaches and new cultures.”

The results of Nadcap audits have shown that the lack of receiving quality control, such as verifying that materials received match what was requested on the purchase order, is the most common nonconformance to the AC7118. This can have serious implications for the industry as a whole. If received materials are not inspected for conformance to specifications, damaged, expired or out of specification materials could be used to produce parts. If quality control is not emphasized, parts that are made from nonconforming material may be released into production.

Advice for Audit Success

Nadcap-accredited suppliers Miguel Gerdel of Thermal Structures Inc. and Dave Kimber of ATK Space Systems have the following advice for audit success:
  • Start your audit preparation as soon as possible – it takes time to prepare properly. Use the Nadcap audit checklists that are available online without charge at www.eAuditNet.com. To assist you, participate in a free Nadcap Customer Support Initiative (NCSI) training session. These are designed to give an overview of the Nadcap audit and accreditation process and provide guidance on how to prepare for an audit.
  • Contact applicable individuals or organizations for assistance. For Nadcap, this may mean your customer, the Task Group Staff Engineer or a Supplier Mentor. Make sure also to use online resources where available. There is a wealth of information regarding Nadcap audits at www.pri-network.org/nadcap and www.eAuditNet.com.
  • Plan to attend a Nadcap meeting where you will be able to network with existing and potential customers, participate in technical discussions, establish audit criteria and interview potential auditor candidates.
  • Ensure that you understand “root cause and corrective action,” and attend a training class if you do not. The same applies for internal auditing. Strengthen your internal-auditing program, and if you have any uncertainty about this, attend a training class.
  • Educate all applicable staff on the audit requirements and process. This will save time later and help avoid potential NCRs.
Many Nadcap stakeholders have contributed to this article, and that demonstrates better than I can explain the ethos behind the Nadcap program, which could be summarized as “quality before competition.” The objective of Nadcap is to continually improve special-process and product quality while remaining cost-effective. This is an ongoing effort and can only be achieved through cooperation. I am proud to be a part of Nadcap and play a role in improving the industry for all.IH

The author, David Watson, is group leader, Composites Operations Support at Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

To learn more about Nadcap, go to www.pri-network.org/nadcap or to find out about becoming an auditor, go to www.eAuditStaff.com. Further information on the training classes detailed in the article is available at www.eQuaLearn.com.