Committed to Quality
Test, measure, calibrate: there is no other sector where certification is as important as in aviation. An interview with Hubert Kern, Vice President Quality at FACC.
Hubert Kern knows his stuff. And that is no surprise as he has worked in quality management at FACC for almost twenty years, now as Vice President Quality. As such, his everyday work is shaped by certifications, i.e. proof that FACC develops and produces high-quality components that meet the high standards set by aviation authorities. He is assisted by almost 300 staff, from quality engineers and inspectors to measurement technicians. And there is always plenty for everyone to do. After all, it is thanks to this work that aircraft are the safest means of transport in the world.
Aircraft components, supply chains and internal processes: is there anything at FACC that you don’t need to certify?
All the products we manufacture are certified without exception. If we build a new hall, certifications don’t really matter to me at first. However, we take a very close look at the systems installed in the hall and the things they produce. After all, certification ultimately just means checking whether we are delivering exactly what was promised in the contract.
Who checks whether things actually deliver the promised quality?
In the case of the main machines that we use, we do this ourselves by assigning responsibilities to various people, such as the calibration department, which is made up of genuine specialists. In such cases, certification is a one-time event. External audits, on the other hand, occur more frequently: not only do the authorities come to our sites up to ten times a year, but we also receive visits from customers and interested organisations. In addition, we, ourselves, conduct numerous audits of our suppliers. And then, there is also the Internal Audit department, managed by my colleague VP Harald Schömig, who is responsible for legal and financial matters.
Certification ultimately just means checking wheter we have delivered exactly what was promised in the contract.
Hubert Kern, Vice President Quality at FACC
So it’s not just your products, but also yourself that you need to certify?
Exactly. Aviation authorities essentially specify three areas. Firstly, the design organisation, which ensures that an aircraft or engine has been correctly developed. Secondly, the production organisation, which has to precisely implement whatever has been specified on a drawing. And once an aircraft has gone into operation, there is also the maintenance Organisation.
If these standards apply to everyone, it surely doesn’t matter which company supplies a component. How can you stand out from the competition regardless?
The industry has tried to standardise itself through the use of standards and regulations that ensure homogeneous processes. It should not matter if something has been produced by company A, B or C, the product quality has to be equally as good from everyone. Where we differ is the quality of our cooperation. The human factor plays a major role in this regard. We can offer customers a service level that others cannot.
Who actually devises these regulations?
There are various organisations responsible for the standards. Here at FACC, we are naturally represented in all of them. The International Aerospace Quality Group (IAQG) is the most important for us as it defines the basic procedures: what must processes look like to result in correct products? Ideally, so that employees cannot do anything wrong. In this regard though, we are constantly at odds with the expectations of the management, who demand speed and flexibility. As a quality manager, you are the one who says: we did it like this yesterday and will continue to do it in the exact same way tomorrow. It is a genuine area of conflict!
As a Quality Manager, the great art lies in withstanding external pressures and taking time to be able to confidently say whether a component is right or not.
What do you do if speed is of the essence?
You always have to just take your time. The pressure is definitely there in our industry, but the great art lies in withstanding this and still being able to confidently say whether a component is right or not.
Are quality managers the most important people in the company?
When quality managers talk to each other, they regard companies as ‘their’ businesses. This is because when you define processes, you also determine how a company works. As quality managers, we therefore have a significant amount of control and responsibility. When people work as a team, you can never be certain that they all understand what the others mean and properly follow instructions. We quality managers have to ensure that this large, complex structure that makes up a company always works regardless. We are there to prevent misunderstandings – and help aircraft remain the safest means of transport in the world.