OSMA Holds Benchmarking Visits With Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne

OSMA Holds Benchmarking Visits With Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne

3-minute read
Benchmarking Initiative

NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance (OSMA) held its first quality benchmarking visits with two NASA prime contractors, Aerojet Rocketdyne (formerly Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne) and The Boeing Company, last fall.

The first day-and-a-half meeting was held at Rocketdyne’s facilities in Canoga Park, California, on Sept. 17-18, 2013, and the second meeting was held at Boeing’s rotorcraft production facility in Mesa, Arizona, on Dec. 3-4.

The meetings were prompted by a Quality Magazine article listing the top 100 companies demonstrating continuous improvement and a commitment to quality. Both NASA prime contractors were listed in the top five. These benchmarking meetings showcased some of Rocketdyne’s and Boeing’s quality best practices to representatives from NASA Headquarters, NASA centers and other space agencies. NASA Technical Fellow for Quality Engineering Brian Hughitt, who coordinated the visits, commented on the importance of collaboration in the space industry.

“In this demanding, challenging environment [of space], without collaboration no one organization can go it alone and succeed entirely on its own. Tapping into the vast expertise, experiences and perspectives of other organizations is now an essential component of mission success,” stated Hughitt.

Through meetings like these, NASA and other members of the space industry benefit from lessons learned and best practices. Benchmarking enhances quality across the industry and helps NASA reassess its current practices and incorporate leading-edge techniques and technologies, all at minimal cost to the agency.

“[These meetings] are high-leverage, improving quality across multiple organizations at a very low relative cost,” Hughitt explained. “…Continuous improvement is essential for a quality organization, particularly for [the space industry]. If you’re not moving forward, you’re static. And in today’s environment of very high and continuously changing risks, if you are static, you are, in effect, moving backwards.”

Representatives from Rocketdyne and Boeing presented a variety of topics, with the understanding that NASA would disseminate selected practices to other stakeholders through its Quality Leadership Forum or other public sites. The Rocketdyne topics presented included “Risk-Based Corrective Action System,” "Quality Clinic Process Overview," “Supplier Quality Portal” and their “Attention to Detail Program.” The Boeing presentations included “Part Orientation Identification Navigation Tool (POINT),” “Supplier Quality Surveillance” and “Special Processor Controls.” The highlights of the presentations included innovative techniques — such as Rocketdyne’s Quality Clinic, where defective parts are removed from production and taken to a “clinic” to be assessed and treated — and new technologies, such as Boeing’s integration of tablet computers on the production floor to streamline inspection and nonconformance control with future capabilities to include configuration control processes.

More benchmarking visits are being planned for this year. Upon learning of the NASA benchmarking visits conducted last fall, another key NASA contractor, Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., volunteered to share some of its successful quality practices. Hughitt envisions the new benchmarking program as a key component of a robust process by which NASA and its contractors collaborate and mutually enrich, educate and improve the aerospace quality community’s programs.

These meetings are more than just educational tools; they also fill a hole in the aerospace quality industry during tough economic times. The Annual Conference on Quality in the Space and Defense Industries (CQSDI), a longstanding staple in the industry for over 20 years, was cancelled for the first time this year due to budget cuts. Similarly, NASA’s Quality Leadership Forum, which has been held for the past 15 years, was cancelled — due, in part, to budget tightening. During this one-year hiatus, the benchmarking visits will help sustain the spirit of collaboration and continuous improvement that has been a longstanding hallmark of the space industry.