Quality assurance and satisfaction with their results: an application to the implementation of EN 9100 standard in the Spanish aerospace sector.

Author:Peces, Carlos del Castillo
  1. Introduction

    The aerospace industry is one of the most important sectors in the world economy, as well as in Spain. According to PwC (2011), in 2010, total revenue of the world's top 100 enterprises amounted to USD 645.800 billion, which is the equivalent of 5% of the worldwide gross domestic product. The Spanish aerospace industry is equally important: according to 2010 data (DBK--a Spanish firm that conducts business and competitive analysis, 2011), it is the fifth European industry in this sector, both in terms of employment (40,262 employees) and for its yearly revenue (6.511 billion euros), with a strong emphasis on exports, which account for just under 75% of total yearly revenue.

    In addition, the industry is becoming increasingly competitive, as a result of pressure from customers (mainly airlines and aircraft owners) and from equipment manufacturers themselves (PwC, 2011). Similarly, the increasing complexity of the systems used in this sector and the increasingly large scale of the projects that are undertaken have now made it impossible for any of the end-product (aeroplanes, helicopters, satellites, etc.) manufacturers to produce the entire product themselves. End products are now the result of collaboration between a large number of system and sub-system manufacturers and other specialist companies, which leads to some unique subcontracting relationships, as well as the increasing internationalisation of production and development (TEDAE, 2010).

    This level of complexity and the wide-ranging scope of the projects undertaken, together with the fact that "safety" is the key aspect that underpins this industry's activities, make it necessary for aerospace products to be subjected to very stringent requirements with regard to quality and reliability. The quality standards in this sector, therefore, are some of the most demanding in any industry. In consequence, the ISO 9000 quality assurance standards are widely applied here, as are the EN 9100 family of standards, which is specifically geared to this industry, whereas the ISO 9001 standards are more generic.

    These quality assurance standards build on the need to systematise and formalise a series of tasks in order to attain uniform products or services, as well as compliance with the specifications established by the client (Anderson et al., 1999). In short, they standardise procedures, roles and responsibilities (Braun, 2005; Guler et al., 2002). In addition, we should bear in mind that standardisation benefits international trade and exchange, which are characteristic of the current global economy, by eliminating barriers arising from practices prevailing in each country (Heras and Boiral, 2013). Thus, it provides solutions to the international features of collaborative projects between different countries, which are customary in this industry, leading to increased trust between the various clients and suppliers involved, while improving the quality of the relationship between them (Mpinganjira et al., 2013).

    Implementing these quality assurance standards entails investing money, time and organisation, both initially and during the maintenance stages, (Whitford and Bird, 1996); investments which, it is hoped, will lead to maximised returns. However, according to prior studies conducted on ISO 9001, these investments are not always offset by positive outcomes, as shown in section 2 of this paper, which has, on occasion, led to a low level of satisfaction with the application of this standard. The implementation of EN 9100 naturally involves higher costs than for the generic ISO 9001 standard, as it includes a number of additional requirements pertaining to the aerospace industry. These costs should, theoretically, be offset by higher profits arising from adherence to this standard. Failure to achieve these higher returns would lead to increased dissatisfaction.

    Prior studies in the field of the EN 9100 standard are scarce. Some of them focus on a description of the general characteristics of the standard, as well as on its main differences with ISO 9000 (Beltran, 2002; Grijalbo and Prida, 2005b; Gutierrez, 2008). Others give an account of the extent of implementation of EN 9100 standards, which mainly occurs among the industry's large manufacturers and suppliers, whereas it is more uneven among second and third-tier suppliers (Grijalbo and Prida, 2005a). While other studies provide a compilation of models and guidelines to use when adhering to the standard (IAT, 2003), a final group describes how EN 9100 was implemented in some of the principal aviation companies, such as EADS, SENER, etc. (Murga, 2002; Vilar, 2003). However, none of these studies specifically analyses the level of satisfaction arising from the benefits caused by the implementation of this standard, nor the factors that determine this satisfaction. Its predecessor in the industry, ISO 9001, has, in fact, been the subject of a number of studies, yet none of them refers specifically to the aerospace industry. Consequently, this research study will attempt to make up for the lack of analysis of the results of applying quality assurance standards in this industry.

    The objective of the investigation is to analyse - among enterprises in the Spanish aerospace industry - the weight of the following factors in the satisfaction derived from the positive effects of implementing the EN 9100 standard: a) company size; b) length of implementation of EN 9100; c) type of predominant motivation (external and/or internal) for adherence; d) level of satisfaction with possible prior implementation of the ISO 9001 standard.

    The methodology was based on a postal survey circulated among the quality managers of the 355 companies that composed the aerospace industry in Spain at the end of 2008, this being the last full financial year elapsed at the start of the investigation (November 2009). A multiple linear regression model was used to deal with the answers.

    Following this introduction, which provides a context for the basic elements of the study, there is a description of the theoretical framework of the investigation under the second heading, including basic aspects of quality management in the aerospace industry and a review of the literature available that is relevant to these standards. In the third section there is a description of the samples and methodology used, and detailed information of outcomes and conclusions is provided in sections four and five respectively.

  2. Conceptual Framework

    2.1. Quality management in the aerospace industry

    The concept of quality management has developed widely as a strategic approach to handling quality in enterprises, building on the principles of customer focus, continuous improvement, people focus and a global vision of the organisation (Merino, 1999; Camison et al, 2009).

    As we have mentioned, the aerospace industry has always been at the cutting edge of quality management system development (IAQG, 2008) and its standards are significantly higher than any to be found in other industrial sectors, except the automotive industry (Gutierrez, 2008). The "self-assessment template" was the first step in the evolution of quality systems in the industry. Subsequently, companies in the sector have used "second-party audits", that is, supplier quality system audits based on each client's own criteria and methods. This system leads to high costs for the sector, since the same company is sometimes audited regularly by several different bodies, which multiplies the expenditure incurred.

    The search for greater efficiency led in the nineties to a trend towards the development and adoption of systems based on "third-party audits", one of which is the ISO 9000 family of standards. These began to spread within the sector to become the only quality management system worth considering. However, these standards did not entirely conform to the specific characteristics of the aerospace industry, so most of the leading companies in the sector continued to produce their own supplements to the standard, which resulted in the multiplication of requirements for suppliers, and led back to the issues arising from second-party audits.

    In order to overcome the problems caused by the many requirements confronting suppliers and seeking to promote quality harmonisation and globalisation within the aerospace industry, in December 1998, the major suppliers, manufacturers and commercial associations in Europe, Asia and America came together to form the International Aerospace Quality Group (IAQG), which in 1999 promoted the EN 9100 family of standards for the industry, with the purpose of standardising the sector's additional requirements to a more specific level than ISO 9001.

    The EN 9100 standard (AS 9100 in America and SIAC 9100 in Asia) included both the requirements arising from ISO 9001 and the 83 additional requirements specific to the aerospace industry. In December 2009, the IAQG's OASIS database, which includes a register of the companies that have implemented this standard, showed a total of 10,765 companies certified worldwide. In short, EN 9100 standards constitute a quality assurance model that attaches particular importance to areas which were considered to have the greatest impact on the security and reliability of aerospace products, such as design, purchasing, process control, inspection and testing and nonconformities control.

    2.2. Literature Review

    As we mentioned in the introduction, there are few studies that refer to the EN 9100 standard, and none that refers either to the results of its implementation or to the satisfaction arising from these results. The ISO 9000 family of standards, for its part, has been the subject of a number of studies, although none of them refer specifically to the aerospace industry. In view of the purpose of this investigation, we have examined the principal studies that specifically, or as a subject among others, refer to the level...

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