planeClick image to enlargeby Tim Wilson

Getting approval to machine aerospace parts worth the effort

The aerospace industry in Canada represents a long-term opportunity for metalworking shops of all sizes. Some of the certification requirements–whether specific to skills or to a company as a whole – can seem daunting, but they should by no means be considered a market access barrier. On the contrary, having the right certification can open up a world of opportunities, and there is help out there to ensure compliance.

“Workforce competency certification helps an organization show due diligence in regard to contract requirements and potential liability issues,” says Glenn Priestley, director, corporate partnerships, accreditation and certification, Canadian Council for Aviation & Aerospace (CCAA). “As well, along with corporate partnerships, certification provides suppliers with a recognized standard that is helpful in OEM recognition and procurement opportunities.”

The CCAA’s focus is providing skills’ development solutions, in part by maintaining a series of industry developed national standards. These can then be referenced by organizations wanting to be able to prove the competence of their skilled workforce. Maintaining standards integrity is a challenge given the complexity of the aerospace industry: the CCAA manages a network of approximately 250 evaluators in organizations across Canada. This speaks to the importance of the corporate relationship when determining skills’ certification.

“We can now combine standards to develop a company-specific standard, which is proving very popular,” says Priestley. “An example is combining Gas Turbine Engine Technician with elements of Non Destructive Testing Technician.”

When it comes to skills certification in aerospace, a job shop should be prepared to invest on its own workforce. Individuals are often not shelling out for the training themselves, and investment in employees usually builds loyalty. Given the squeeze in labour supply, it might be better to bite the bullet and invest in training and certification rather than to wait for the perfect candidate.

“We pay for the full training and certification of our welders,” says André Roseberry, president of Rasakti Inc., an aerospace manufacturer in Saint-Germain-de-Grantham, QC. “I am not scared of paying a lot for training–it’s a big part of my budget.”

Beyond employee certification, there is the matter of certifying the company itself. AS9100 certification is exclusively for aerospace manufacturing, with AS9110 being for maintenance, repair and operations (MRO). Another standard, AS9120, is the quality management system for those companies distributing aerospace commodity items.

“Typically speaking, most of our clients transit from ISO 9000 due to customer requests or demands,” says Dan Seal, global aerospace product manager at SGS, a testing services company headquartered in Rutherford, NJ. “It’s a difficult process, but absolutely doable.”

Seal says a company thinking of getting started with AS9100 certification should go ahead and purchase a copy of the standards. From there, they can hire a company like SGS to conduct a gap analysis. After the assessment–which can be done in as little as a day–there is then a two-step process to achieve certification.

“The first stage is to collect all the documentation,” says Seal. “Then the second is to implement the requirements. Once a company gains certification, it is good for a three year cycle.”

Within the certification period a company can expect annual visits to ensure compliance. These involve audits; if a company is out-of-step, a non-conformity report is issued, with an assessment of what actions are required to regain compliance. The good news is that company size is no barrier to certification.

“Our customer base is primarily AS9100 manufacturers, and these could be ten people or a thousand people,” says Seal. “The size of the company doesn’t matter. Typically, with smaller companies you have people who do more than one function, and this can be somewhat easier to manage. Some of our smaller companies do a terrific job of managing their processes.”

It should be clear that AS9100 is about certifying management processes in manufacturing–not the products themselves. Nonetheless it can open a lot of doors to those shops wanting a piece of the aerospace pie.

“We have a number of customers who have diversified into aerospace, and it is now a fairly large percentage of their business,” says Seal. “Once they take the time and effort to get certified, suddenly they have access to a Boeing or a Bombardier.”

But lacking certification specific to aerospace won’t necessarily cut you out of the supply chain; it is possible for a company like Rasakti, which has about 40 employees, to piggy-back on the certification of a supplier to a large aerospace customer.

“Rasakti is not certified AS9100,” says Roseberry. “We are ISO 9000. Customers often simply need to validate their own standards. In our experience, it was only Airbus that required AS9100. Our solution was to work with a Tier 1 supplier under their certification.”

In aerospace, certification of employees and companies has proven value. A certified workforce can demonstrate to third parties that a company has what it takes, while also reducing accidents. And in terms of the AS-level standards, certification ensures that a company of any size is qualified to participate in the aerospace supply chain, a sector that can add to a shop’s diversified client base, while also providing long-term value. SMT

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