First Article Inspections: Why Are They Important?

A first article inspection takes place when an authorized individual takes one or more components from the initial production run. This individual is often the supplier or a second-party inspector with a laboratory and specialized measuring equipment. They assess whether the production precisely meets the client’s specifications. 

Early-stage inspection of the first article units guarantees that the engineers or technicians have the necessary knowledge of the customer’s requirements and have incorporated them into their manufacturing processes. 

Purpose of FAI:

The first article inspection procedure has two key functions. 

  • The first purpose is to assess and confirm all documented requirements. 
  • The second step entails creating the production line’s manufacturing Plan of Record, or POR. 

The manufacturer must continuously reproduce the POR once it has been established. This guarantees that the manufacturer complies with the documented requirements for all upcoming production runs. It also ensures that the manufacturer will use the same procedure to construct every board and that each board will have identical functionality.

The first article build procedure is intended for new printed circuit board (PCB) designs and revisions to existing designs. The manufacturer cannot update the POR unless the client modifies the board.

When is FAI necessary:

There are other situations where performing an FAI is useful, in addition to performing one during the initial production run or if the design of a part is altered. For instance, a first article inspection should be a part of the procedure for restarting manufacturing if production has been paused for two years or more.

Additionally, first article inspections should also be conducted if any changes are made to the materials, sourcing, process, tools, or location. These checks demonstrate that the modifications had no negative effects on a product’s features, size, or general quality.

When a component or product undergoes design changes, a delta FAI, often referred to as a partial FAI happens. The report produced in this case details the variations between the most recent version and the original report. However, typically, a first article inspection is necessary after:

  • Change in the contract manufacturer
  • First production run
  • Design change
  • Changes in materials or source
  • Changes in the process, tool, or location
  • Few years after the last run

What should an inspection include:

Making an inspection plan is the first step in performing an FAI. An inspection plan must include a table listing the inspection requirements, including balloon numbers, pertinent tolerances, and related specs. This table is a crucial component of the first article inspection report (FAIR) which summarizes whether a component passed a quality assessment.

What FAI Validates

The inspection of the first article of PCB assembly units must be a thorough process. It must validate documented process requirements to ensure they’re within specifications. The first article inspection process must aim for validation of:

  • Measurable Attributes: All attributes listed in the covering design specification must be measured, noted, and verified. Attributes that are measured include resistance, voltages, and diameters.
  • Manufacturing Issues: Manufacturers are required to record any issues or challenges they encounter during the fabrication and assembly process. In order to make adjustments and corrections, they must review these in cooperation with the consumer.
  • Ingredients: All materials and supplies utilized in the assembly process must be checked. They must also meet their specifications.
  • Documentation: Identifying any ambiguities in the documentation and getting customer clarification.

Before the PCB assembly manufacturing run begins, these issues must be identified for remedial measures. Implementing these prior to the start of full production allows the production processes to run smoothly.

Final Thoughts:

There are many tests to run while evaluating quality, other than the first product inspection. However, it could be a crucial one when making particular components. An FAI can assist in confirming a supplier can satisfy client needs without making expensive mistakes.