Regardless of the type of aerospace heat treatment you perform, you will inevitably face the decision of whether or not to become Nadcap accredited.
What is Nadcap Accreditation?
The Nadcap program was established in 1990 by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Nadcap’s membership today includes over 45 “prime” contractors (e.g., Airbus, Boeing, Honeywell, Parker Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney) and suppliers (i.e. companies that carry out special processes to create end products purchased by primes) that convene several times a year to coordinate industry-wide standards for special processes and products.
Through the Performance Review Institute (PRI), a non-profit organization, Nadcap provides independent certification of manufacturing processes for the industry. PRI’s mission is to “provide international, unbiased, independent manufacturing process and product assessments and certification services for the purpose of adding value, reducing total cost, and facilitating relationships between primes and suppliers.”
So, being Nadcap accredited means that you have been audited by a third party for compliance to a list of industry and customer-controlled specifications. Examples of these specifications include AMS 2750D (Pyrometry), AMS 2759 (Heat Treatment of Steel Parts – General Requirements), AMS 2770H (Heat Treatment of Wrought Aluminum Alloys) and ASTM E18 (Standard Test Method for Rockwell Hardness of Metallic Metals).
Why is Nadcap Important?
For a heat treater, Nadcap accreditation is critical if you are trying to service the aerospace market. It conveys to a potential customer that you are meeting the most stringent industry standards. However, being Nadcap accredited does not automatically mean that you are approved to heat treat products for these companies. Typically, you will still have to pass an additional on-site audit by each of the primes. Although it has been advertised that becoming Nadcap accredited will reduce the amount of audits required by the primes, most heat treaters would argue to the contrary.
What Drives a Company to Seek Accreditation?
There are many excellent and justifiable reasons why companies decide to seek Nadcap accreditation. Becoming more market diversified is one reason, especially given the recent downturn in the automotive sector. Increasing the geographical radius of the market you serve is another good reason. Desiring to improve the quality of the parts that you are heat treating is the strongest motivation of all. However, being motivated by the statement, “If you get Nadcap accredited, we will send you our work” ends up often being a poor reason for seeking accreditation.
What can be Nadcap Accredited?
Nadcap can accredit the following programs in the aerospace and military/defense industries:
- Chemical Processing (CP)
- Coatings (CT)
- Deicing (DEICE)
- Elastomer Seals (SEAL)
- Electronics (ETG)
- Fluid Distribution Systems (FLU)
- Heat Treating (HT)
- Materials Testing Laboratories (MTL)
- Non-Metallic Materials Testing (NMMT)
- Non-Destructive Testing (NDT)
- Machining – Conventional and Nonconventional (including EDM, ECM, ECG, LBM)
- Sealants (SLT)
- Surface Enhancement (including shot peening, peen forming and glass bead blasting)
- Welding (WLD)
Under the heat-treating category, there are a number of potential Nadcap audit areas (Table 1).
In addition, Nadcap accreditation can also be obtained for support services such as a company’s metallurgical laboratory or hardness (and microhardness) testing equipment.
What are the Steps to Becoming Nadcap Accredited?
Once you have made the business decision to seek Nadcap accreditation, the first step should be to register on PRI’s eAuditNet website (www.pri-network.org). Registration is free, and the site will provide you with a vast amount of information on the topic. At this website, you will also be able to download checklists and audit criteria to be used during your internal audit (Fig. 1). The next step will be to decide what process(es) and specification(s) you want to have included in your Nadcap accreditation. For example, do you want every aerospace process you perform to be accredited or just the aluminum processes? Next, you will want to perform a Gap Analysis/Internal Audit using the aforementioned checklists to find where you are out of compliance with the applicable specifications. During the internal audit, you should also print out and confirm that you are in compliance with PRI’s list of the 10 most common findings.
After reviewing the results of your internal audit, you will have an understanding of how much work needs to be done before you are ready for the actual Nadcap audit. If you find that you have few gaps, then you can move forward with scheduling the audit. If you have many gaps, you will have to come up with a plan to address these shortfalls. This may require additional training and resources to assist your quality manager. Another option may be to contract with a consultant to help you address the gaps.
Also, keep in mind that in addition to auditing for compliance with certain aerospace process specifications, your entire quality system will have to undergo a one-day audit by PRI to ensure compliance with AC7004 (Aerospace Quality Systems). AS9100 is an acceptable substitute for AC7004. However, ISO 9001:2008 is not an acceptable substitute. Remember, the investment in the audit process is considerable (Table 2).
The initial Nadcap audit typically takes place over a period of five working days (even if you are a small shop with only 5-10 employees). This includes the one-day quality-system audit. Unlike the more common audits (ISO, AS9100, etc.), the Nadcap audit will look at specific work that is being processed in your plant and check it for compliance with certain industry specifications. The audit will include following five to 10 actual work orders as they make their way through each step of your process. Every step of the entire process, from receipt to delivery, will be audited and violations noted (Table 3).
Don’t underestimate the level of detail that the auditors will go into. For example, here are a few possible audit questions: Are your furnace chart recorders rotating at the proper speed? How is that verified? How many times have you used that load thermocouple? How long has that load thermocouple been in service, and what day was it put in service? Has that furnace been moved? If so, did it undergo a new temperature uniformity survey before it was placed back in production?
Major findings are defined as the absence of, or systemic breakdown of, the process control and/or quality management system and any nonconformance where the effect impacts or has the potential to impact the integrity of the product.
You are Nadcap Accredited! Now What?
Getting Nadcap accredited is somewhat like getting your college diploma. You should be proud of your accomplishment, but now you have to still go and land the job! Just because you have the accreditation, it doesn’t mean that your customers are willing or able to send you their Nadcap work. Most likely, you will still have to be approved by the specific primes through an additional on-site audit. Getting the attention of the primes can be a lengthy (months or years) and frustrating process. However, if you offer a unique process (salt nitrocarburizing, for example), you may find that the primes are very eager to work with you (at least on that specific process). Finally, you must create an aggressive marketing program to make the aerospace and defense industries aware of your new capabilities and work tirelessly to pursue new business. It will not automatically come to you!
Nadcap is a difficult and costly accreditation to obtain. Once achieved, it should be a source of great pride. However, since heat treaters are processing critical components for the aerospace and defense industries, the accreditation process needs to be and is very stringent. The personal safety of the traveling public and the national security of many countries depend on the performance of the components heat treated by Nadcap-accredited companies. Good luck! IH
For more information: Contact Patrick McKenna, Nevada Heat Treating, Inc.; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; web: www.nevadaheattreating.com; or Dan Herring, The HERRING GROUP, Inc.; e-mail: email@example.com; web: www.heat-treat-doctor.com