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first article inspection

Everything You Must Know About First Article Inspection in Custom Machining

Navigating product quality challenges, such as precision tolerances, accurate dimensions, and consistent surface roughness, is a common hurdle for our clientele in custom machining.

This is where First Article Inspection (FAI) becomes invaluable, providing a systematic approach to validate that each product meets its specified requirements.

This article delves into the first article, the inspection process, and how it fulfills process validation requirements for a quality management system such as AS/EN9100 or ISO900. Continue reading to the end to learn when you need a first article inspection and who conducts the inspection.

What Does First Article Inspection Mean?

what does first article inspection mean
What Does First Article Inspection Mean

First article inspection (FAI) is a production validation process that typically involves testing and inspecting randomly selected parts produced in a batch to confirm their specifications meet client preferences as indicated in the engineering drawings. The inspector chooses a random sample from the initial production run and compares it with the purchase order’s customer specifications.

This assessment is particularly critical for new orders or when parts are produced with a specific manufacturing method for the first time. However, it is essential to understand that you may require further first-article testing if your initial inspections yield unsatisfactory results. You may need to take corrective measures to perform another production run and make another FAI.

The first article report provides details, assuring the component satisfies the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) requirements. Most companies in the aerospace and defense industries often perform AS9102 First Article Inspections because it is a standard reporting format. The AS9102 is a guidance document, a standard updated by the SAE to showcase the value of the FAI process.

Why Is First Article Inspection Important?

why is first article inspection important
why is first article inspection important

FAI plays a significant role in ensuring that new and revised products meet design specifications. These inspections help prevent defects and safety hazards in the final product by detecting deviations and non-conformities early. Although first-article inspections aren’t always easy, they offer reliable transparency and characteristic accountability as a competitive edge, ensuring overall satisfaction and improved customer relationships.

Similarly, FAI material testing is critical to product manufacturing. This inspection process helps to determine the characteristics of a raw material and how it interacts with different conditions. This testing helps to verify that a material is applicable for desired applications. Since there are various materials with unique properties, these tests help to be on a safer side. Mechanical testing is the standard material test which involves applying force to the raw material and measuring the resulting deformation. Before any material can be used in an application, it must have met certain specifications. The material and the intended working environment will determine these specifications.

Who Performs First Article Inspections?

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Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs)

Generally, the part supplier performs the First Article Inspection. This is a typical agreement in the purchase order since it guarantees a level of quality assurance. However, there are cases where part supplier doesn’t have the necessary in-house facilities to conduct an FAI. Hence, the inspections may be outsourced to a reliable metrology laboratory to complete the result.

One shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between whether the First Article Inspection is performed by the supplier or a contractor as long as an authorized body has conducted it.

A Stepwise Guide to the First Article Inspection Process

Although parts suppliers conduct first-article inspections in different ways, here is a step-by-step guide to the process:

Step 1: Identify the Need for the Inspection

Decide whether you need a partial or full first article inspection based on whether you are manufacturing a new or revised part.

Step 2: Conduct First Production Run

Produce the part using the same raw materials, machines, processes, and tools that will be employed in the mass production process.

Step 3: Choose a Sample

Since the sample sizes may vary based on product requirements and industry standards, the sample should be ideally chosen at random if possible.

Step 4: Perform First Article Inspection

Inspect the sample to ensure its compliance with product specifications. Confirm that the characteristics are within tolerances and that all measured results correspond with customer requests.

Step 5: Document Measured Results

Record the measurements obtained from the inspection and document the values for each characteristic or design requirement.

Step 6: Prepare the First Article Inspection Report

Fill out Form 1, Form 2, and Form 3 and the accompanying balloon drawings to prepare the First Article Inspection Report.

Step 7: Review and Approval

Submit the FAIR to the relevant stakeholders, such as those in charge of quality control, production staff, and customers, for review, and get approval from the customer by signing their name.

When Do You Need to Conduct a First Article Inspection?

when do you need to conduct a first article inspection
When Do You Need to Conduct a First Article Inspection?

The First Article Inspection may be helpful in several circumstances, even though it typically applies to the first attempt to produce a part. Here are some instances of when you need a First Article Inspection:

  • When a part or product is being produced for the first time
  • When there is an update in a part’s design
  • When there are certain changes in the manufacturing process (e.g. if  you replace a 3-axis CNC machine with a multi-axis machine)
  • When there is a change in the manufacturer’s location
  • When a substantial time has elapsed between orders

First Article testing is often conducted in industries like defense, automotive, medical, and defense, where parts have stringent performance requirements. They are not usually needed for prototypes, small batches, simple consumer goods, or apparel.

What Is a First Inspection Report?

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A first-article inspection report (FAIR) is a document of a manufacturing run that proves to the design owners (external customers or internal design engineers) that the components and assemblies are produced with the correct specifications and inspected according to the print. It usually comprises a detailed breakdown of the inspection.

Usually, the FAI report in the aerospace and defense industry must comprise three forms including:

Form 1: Part Number Accountability – Indicates the product part that is being assessed during the First Article Inspection and its related sub-assemblies or detail parts.

Form 2: Product Accountability – Identifies all materials, functional tests, specifications, and processes that are indicated as a design requirement.

Form 3: Characteristic Accountability – Outlines each design characteristic of the FAI parts, including drawing notes, dimensional measurements, tolerances, and the results are documented here. In addition, a balloon drawing is included to support this form.

Balloon Drawings – Balloon drawings, also regarded as bubble drawings, support Form 3 by confirming that each design characteristic corresponds with the requirements specified in the engineering notes. Each drawing has a number corresponding to the design characteristic numbers on Form 3.

Besides, an FAI report often includes other information such as:

Part Identification

  • Part number
  • Serial number
  • Drawing number
  • Revision number

Supplier Information

  • Supplier or manufacturer’s name and address
  • Contact information

Product Characteristics

  • Material Specifications
  • Dimensions
  • Tolerances
  • Surface finish requirements

Materials and Processes

  • Specifications for raw materials
  • Details on production processes

Inspection Results

  • Actual measurements and data collected during the inspection
  • Results of any required validations or tests
  • Conformance or non-conformance to design requirements

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Inspection Details

  • Date of inspection
  • Description of the sampling plan used for the inspection
  • List of measuring tools and equipment used during the inspection

Certifications and Documentation

  • Material test reports
  • Inspection and testing records
  • Certificate of Compliance

Non-Conformance Report

  • Corrective actions implemented or planned
  • Details on any deviations from the specified requirements

Other Properties

  • Additional notes or comments relevant to the inspection
  • Signatures and dates of approval from relevant parties, including engineers or quality assurance personnel

What Are the Differences between FAI and PPAP?

what are the differences between fai and ppap
What Are the Differences between FAI and PPAP

A first article inspection (FAI) is a subset of a production part approval process (PPAP). An FAI requires the review of only one part, three or five parts in some cases. However, the order size often determines the number of units inspected in a First Article Inspection report.

A typical FAI may cover only the first unit for a run of prototypes or a low-volume production run. Conversely, a full PPAP often requires the production of tens to hundreds of parts for run-at-rate and process capability studies.

An FAI examines the dimensional record and a subset of the documentation, such as raw materials, special processing, and functional testing. Conversely, a PPAP requires formal documentation of every step of the new product introduction, including Process Flow Diagrams, Quality control plans, Gage R&R, etc.


First Article Inspection is critical to ensuring that products meet customer requirements and quality standards. It helps to prevent risks of product defects during manufacturing, which may result in the products being rejected and reworked, which is extremely costly and affects production schedules. This guide has discussed everything you need to know to decide if you need an FAI expert for your project.

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AT-Machining is the ideal prototyping and manufacturing services provider whenever you need professional assistance with your manufacturing project. Our team of FAI experts leverages our modern in-house measuring equipment to inspect your products, ideally to identify any defects. Our quality assurance includes material inspection, in-process inspection, First Article Inspection, and final inspection and testing. Don’t hesitate to contact us to speak to an expert about our first article inspection services.

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