Concepts of FAI, PPAP, Pilot Run and Serial Production


Understanding FAI, PPAP, Pilot Run and Serial Production in Custom Component Manufacturing

April 7th, 2022

With handmade vases or jewelry, it’s understood that no two pieces will be the same. Buyers like this variability as it adds a degree of uniqueness that makes each piece special. In industrial manufacturing though, such variability would be disastrous.

Variability in component manufacturing would mean each assembly required hand finessing to make the parts fit together. That would be expensive and would almost certainly affect performance. This variability would be bad for the manufacturer too. It would mean processes weren’t under control, which would complicate production planning and result in excess costs.

To avoid problems like these, manufacturers use a series of tools to verify that processes are under control and to demonstrate their ability to meet customer expectations. These tools vary between industries but common elements are FAI, PPAPs and pilot runs. Here’s a closer look at each.

FAI – Does the Part Match the Print?

FAI is the acronym for First Article Inspection. While it may sound straightforward, there’s more to it than just checking the first part for defects.

Before manufacturing gets underway the customer has often only seen drawings of the components they expect to receive. In some cases, the supplier may have delivered prototypes but these were one-offs, not made on production machines or production tooling. So as production gets underway it’s essential to prove that the parts being made are what the customer expected.

This is the purpose of FAI.

FAI is a detailed inspection of all features of a component. It may be done on the very first part off the machine or production line but it’s more common to select a part at random from the first batch produced.

To perform an FAI the part drawing is marked up to highlight the features that need checking. Then it’s measured carefully, often on a coordinate measuring machine, (CMM). In some cases, customer and supplier may agree to have this done by an outside inspection service.

The output of the FAI process is the FAI Report, or FAIR. This either confirms that the component being produced is what was agreed with the customer or identifies areas where changes are needed.

Ensuring the Process is Capable

The part might be right, but is the manufacturing process capable of making it consistently and at the required speed? This is the purpose of the Production Part Approval Process, or PPAP.

PPAP is a standardized process, meaning all suppliers will go through it the same way. It has 19 separate elements that require the manufacturer to demonstrate that they have full control over the processes. A customer will often want to witness the PPAP being performed, including verifying the ability to run-at-rate.

Once a product has been through PPAP the process is locked-in and can’t be changed, other than by agreement between customer and supplier.

For completeness it should be noted that PPAP is part of a larger process called Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP). APQP details everything a supplier will do to ensure the parts they make meet customer expectations.

Working Out the Bugs

The first batch of pieces made on the production machinery with production tooling is referred to as the pilot run. This will be detailed as part of APQP and may be the source of the part for FAI. The pilot run typically consists of no more than 200 pieces.

Almost inevitably, regardless of how much planning was done, the pilot run will uncover problems in the production process. To give some examples, a tool might not fit a machine as expected, drills might break in the hole, or dunnage might not be easy to load. Finding such problems is a positive result because now the supplier can take action to prevent them from affecting series production.

Agreeing the Product Launch Process

Launching a new custom part in manufacturing is always a challenging undertaking, but following a structured process minimizes problems and ensures customers get the components they expect. The process is agreed between customer and supplier, but key elements usually include FAI, PPAP and the pilot run.

Impro works with customers from many industries, from automotive and aerospace to medical devices and industrial, and understands that quality requirements vary. To learn how we can meet your product launch expectations, contact us to schedule a discussion.


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