Using non-conforming components even though the final assembly is conforming?

#1
Let me preface by saying I am a recent grad and the sole quality engineer at a small company so I have very little experience and guidance when it comes to quality.

The situation:

We produce a part X for customer A, who then uses that part as a component in their product for customer B. Due to the nature of the products and the industry (military and government related), we are heavily audited by customer B even though there is no direct contract with them.

Customer A has provided us a drawing for Part X which we must produce to. However, Part X consists of multiple components, and we own the drawings for those components. One of these components, say Component 1, is brazed and welded and it is very difficult for our supplier to meet the tolerances in our drawing, since they are machined tolerances. Fabrication of Component 1 is expensive and currently the bottleneck for our operation, so we try to minimize the number of rejects for that component. Instead, the other components can be altered so that they still meet their individual component drawing requirements, and result in a final assembly that meets customer A's drawing requirements. The only issue is Component 1 won't be within spec according to the drawing. The supplier for Component 1 sends us a NCR and we issue a waiver to accept as is. This happens on about 50% of units. Customer A is aware of the issue and has told us that since they only care about the final product conforming to their drawing, what we are doing is not an issue.

Today Customer B performed an audit and expressed major concern with what we have been doing, which is totally understandable. Ideally, our supplier for Component 1 would be giving us a conforming product every time and we would not have to do alterations. Is there anything in the standards (AS9100, ISO9001, MILSPEC, etc) that would support our practices? We have provided the following as justification for customer B but so far they aren't happy with it:
1. Customer A has given us the okay to continue doing so, since they are only concerned with the final assembly
2. We review every bit of data from the Nonconformance Report from our Supplier to ensure that we can make alterations without resulting in other non-conforming components

We are hoping there is a clause in one of the standards to support our case. If not, are there other safeguards we should be taking if we are to continue doing this? I understand that in manufacturing if someone were to use a nonconforming screw it would be an issue, which is why this is a tough situation for me to resolve.

Thanks!
 
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Sidney Vianna

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#2
The supplier for Component 1 sends us a NCR and we issue a waiver to accept as is. This happens on about 50% of units. Customer A is aware of the issue and has told us that since they only care about the final product conforming to their drawing, what we are doing is not an issue.
You dispositioned a nonconforming component as "USE-AS-IS" without having design authority. That's a no-no in accordance with AS9100. Do you even know if Customer A has design authority over the product?

Your real solution is to have the design of component 1 re-engineered to allow looser tolerances, such that your supplier can comply with. Or, find another supplier that has better manufacturing processes and can deliver the parts according to spec.

Good luck.
 
#4
Do you even know if Customer A has design authority over the product?
Yes, customer A has design authority. I believe we are a subcontractor for Customer A in this case. So would we need to get formal documentation from Customer A? If so, would we need approval for each individual non-conformance or would a blanket approval suffice?

Your real solution is to have the design of component 1 re-engineered to allow looser tolerances, such that your supplier can comply with. Or, find another supplier that has better manufacturing processes and can deliver the parts according to spec.
Looser tolerances is not an option. There were technical/mechanical reasons that I didn't fully grasp but the supplier is working towards adjusting their processes to hit our tolerances. Finding another supplier would be the best thing to do but we simply do not have the time to go through the vetting and approval process of a new supplier right now.

Obviously our practices are not ideal but given our circumstances, are there any additional safeguards we should take to ensure safety for the end user, as well as maintain compliance.

Thanks for the response!
 

Sidney Vianna

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#5
So would we need to get formal documentation from Customer A? If so, would we need approval for each individual non-conformance or would a blanket approval suffice?
Make your customer A formalize IN WRITING their acceptance of the nonconforming component. In your previous post you wrote the following:
Customer A is aware of the issue and has told us that since they only care about the final product conforming to their drawing, what we are doing is not an issue.
In this business, you need to learn the meaning of the CYA acronym, quickly. If you don't have a WRITTEN waiver from customer A, get one; yesterday.
I suspect that they will drag their feet before they provide you such document.

Good luck.
 

Golfman25

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#6
To me it sounds like your processes are "ok," but your paperwork is a problem. Probably worth time to engage with Customer A on loosening the design to make components 1 and 2 so they fit, rather than a specified tolerance. Kind of like if A=this then B should = that.
We do a lot of press fit parts and frequently see notes like "part A must press into part B." So the tolerance become less important and long as we meet form, fit and function.
 
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