OSMA Holds Quality Benchmarking Meeting at Ball Aerospace

OSMA Holds Quality Benchmarking Meeting at Ball Aerospace

4-minute read
Benchmarking Meeting at Ball

NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance (OSMA) held a quality benchmarking visit at Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado, Sept. 23. It was the third in a series of benchmarking meetings intended to enhance quality across NASA and the space industry.

Attendees included representatives from OSMA, Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), NASA Safety Center, Missile Defense Agency, and Defense Contract Management Agency.

According to NASA Technical Fellow for Quality Engineering Brian Hughitt, who coordinated the three benchmarking visits, the Ball presentations were particularly engaging, with extremely interactive discussions between the company and government attendees.

Best Practice Presentations

Ball presented eight best practices that covered topics ranging from electronic systems for tracking quality inspection records and hardware anomalies to counterfeit parts avoidance.

“Their efforts to continuously improve showed up throughout the day of benchmarking,” said JPL Quality Assurance Section Manager John O’Donnell. “There are clearly some areas that we can benefit from learning more about and determining how we can adopt something similar at JPL.”

Highlights included a presentation on defect analytics by Ball Hardware Quality Engineer Chelsea Dickkut and a presentation on life-cycle risk management by Ball Mission Assurance Chief Engineer David Pinkley.

Dickkut’s presentation described how Ball tracks hardware anomalies, analyzes data to find trends in the root causes, shares the information across business units and addresses those trends.  According to Dickkut, the Ball approach to defect analytics, which she described using the terms “Capture, Analyze, Share, Act,” led to an 84 percent reduction in workmanship defects within a Ball product center from the first quarter of 2013 to the second quarter of 2014 while work volume more than doubled.

Pinkley’s presentation described how Ball manages risk throughout the project lifecycle for class A through D missions. The presentation covered establishing a program risk lexicon and managing unknowns. It also proposed a process for tailoring risk balance based on mission class and other factors.

“Ball has been very open about what they’re trying to accomplish with regard to managing risk on various classes of missions, and I believe they’re ahead of some suppliers and prime contractors,” said Mike Kelly, Chief of the Mission Support Division at GSFC. “Everyone across the industry wants to be more risk-based with regard to requirements, but it’s a really hard thing to do. At launch, everything becomes a Class A mission. It’s all got to work.”

According to Pinkley, Ball’s approach addresses concerns about mission success by shifting the risk management paradigm.

“Instead of leading with Class A and scaling down to Class D, we start with Class D and ask ‘what do we need to do to make the Class D mission a success?’ and then we scale up,” Pinkley said.

Attendees also observed some of Ball’s quality assurance measures in action during a tour of Ball facilities, watching as engineers and technicians in the clean room worked on the Joint Polar Satellite System for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Why We Benchmark

Ball Satellite

Credit: Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

According to Hughitt, ever-changing risks have made continuous improvement in the quality arena mission essential. These changes include declining budgets, counterfeit parts, new unqualified manufacturing technologies, new players in the commercial space industry, and legislative actions prohibiting traditional space industry materials due to environmental concerns.

“Collaboration and sharing is no longer just a good idea,” Hughitt said. “It’s an essential component of mission success.”

Kelly echoed Hughitt’s opinion.

“One of the most important things from the visit was meeting other government counterparts and employees at Ball that I didn’t know,” he said. “The more people you know in the industry, the better connected you are, and this leads to increased performance in your job.”

Ball has contributed to several NASA missions, including Kepler, Spitzer and Deep Impact, and the company currently is working on the optical system for the James Webb Space Telescope.

The company volunteered to share its best practices after hearing about two earlier benchmarking meetings held at Rocketdyne and Boeing late last year.

The meetings have helped to sustain a spirit of collaboration and continuous improvement in the space industry during tough economic times. In 2014, NASA’s annual Quality Leadership Forum (QLF) was cancelled due in part to budget constraints. Hughitt initially planned to conduct just three benchmarking visits as interim activities until the QLF reconvenes in February 2015. However, he is considering the addition of ongoing benchmarking visits to contribute to OSMA’s continuous improvement, because the visits are more interactive in nature and provide deeper exposure to an organization’s whole quality program.