SEEING IS believing
The Anthill’s Revenge
If only defects were in as short supply as logic and wisdom.
THIS IS WHAT happens when the pyramid inverts and falls on little old unsuspecting you. Just what you deserve for minding your own business.

“We need to audit your quality system. You’re a new vendor with contingent qualification. We can’t make it permanent without an audit.”

What do you mean we’re a new vendor? We’ve been doing business with you for 11 years.

“Doesn’t matter. New regime in place. Since you’re a great big unknown to us, who are new, consider yourself, as we do, a new vendor. Clean slate. Get used to it. Plus, you had a recent test escape, and we need to determine the root cause. Might as well do the full workup.”

So much for any shred of gratitude and recognition for 11 years of hard work. But it’s true: He needs to allow for the possibility we may have been engaged in a conspiracy so immense that only he could whisk the wool from his employer’s eyes after 11 befuddling years. Fiendishly clever of him to smoke us out. Thus are reputations built.

Guess I don’t have much choice.

“Nope. And we’re working with flight hardware. Whole new level of scrutiny, traceability, and accountability. Best you get used to that, too.”

Ah yes, I forgot about the Whole New Level of Scrutiny Button embedded in the x-ray inspection software. Silly me. That’s why he’s the Quality Guy. No piddling corner office suite for him. He’s a Man of Action.

We’ve been scrutinized, traced and accounted for every day of our 11-year relationship with your company. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be talking today in the 12th year.

Tales from the anthill. It’s not an ethnic group. It’s a state of mind.

And a state of power. Small man, big influence. Up from the ranks and off the anthill. His one chance in life to assert himself and spread misery. Score points with the higher-ups. Prior history be damned. Procedures offer cover.

“You know we can shut you down in a minute for lack of written qualifications.”

Yes.

You know I can shut you down in a femtosecond for lack of common sense. I still have your urgent work on my floor, and I believe your engineers are still awaiting results detailing why it didn’t work. So, were you born lacking common sense or was that skill surgically excised in graduate school?

“We need to come in and audit your facility.”

May I remind you we have a pandemic afoot, and of our local and state shelter-in-place orders that continue in full force and effect until further notice?

“That does pose a few challenges. But I know: Been confined to barracks myself these past few months because I have a health history and am in one of the most vulnerable age groups.”

Yet it’s okay for you to demand an onsite inspection and potentially die in the attempt? I’m not exactly in lockstep with your logic.

“Priorities. We do what we need to do, and qualifying you to our new procedures is one of the things we need to do, and quickly. Otherwise, critical projects get delayed.”

Okay. So, save the trip, remove the health risk, check a box and make us qualified. Flick of the wrist, and no annoying TSA lines.

“Can’t do that. Got a checklist that needs to be completed.”

Guess you’re going to have to complete that checklist online. Fire away.

“Can’t do that either. Gotta go through channels.”

Meaning?

“You’ll get a list shortly.”

He went away for a while. Ran a bunch of jobs for his colleagues. Successfully. None questioned our qualifications.

Like Halley’s Comet, without the dazzling visuals, he returned a month later in written form.

To wit:

“Please complete the attached Supplier QMS (quality management system) form at your earliest convenience. Include copies of relevant certifications or qualifications.”

Filled out all the boxes. The survey was merciless. No exemptions or skip-overs for preexisting certifications. Sent, accompanied by ITAR letter and AS9100D certification.

Another month elapses. The Comet returns.

“Please supply personnel qualifications for all NDT (nondestructive testing) personnel.”

There’s more.

“Are they certified to ASNT, NAS 410, or SNT-TC-1A?”

And more.

“Are any of the certifications to Level II or Level III? Do you perform validations of your equipment? Does your equipment manufacturer perform them or do you? What are your process controls? Do you use a reference standard to check systems? What is the scan rate? What is the field-of-view? What magnification is used? What is the maximum resolution? What is the pixel/voxel size?”

More still.

“Does your work reference adhere to the following standards: IPC 7095D-WAM1 (Design and Assembly Process Implementation for Ball Grid Arrays); ASTM E 1000 (Standard Guide for Radioscopy); IPC TA-723 (Technology Assessment of Surface Mounting); AIA/NAS 410 (Certification and Qualification of NDT Personnel); ASTM E2736 (Standard Guide for Digital Detector Radiography)?”

We answer in writing:

No. No. Yes. Yes. See equipment data supplied. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. Depends on the system. (We have four x-ray systems.) See equipment data supplied. With respect to applicable standards, our pass/fail calls derive, as they always have, from IPC-A-610.

All done.

Not so fast.

Another month goes by. Behold, a corrective action request. Under the guise of addressing a single AXI test escape, our friend maneuvers all the questions previously asked the month before into the body of the CAR. No doubt as a helpful reminder. Just making sure we’re paying attention.

“There were no quality indicators used for x-ray inspection, per ASTM E100.”

We’re paying attention.

Answer: Correct. ASTM E100 was not stipulated as the basis for quality indicators, either in our quotation or by you in the language of the PO received. Our quote clearly states that acceptability decisions default to IPC-A-610, current revision, classes II or III, as applicable. Additional requirements must be listed in the purchase order. They were not.

“System should have a clearly defined field-of-view (FOV), and that field-of-view must be repeatable as part of a written process.”

Answer: System has a clearly defined field-of-view, which varies with the board, component location, board topography, and algorithm employed to detect solder joint anomalies. In 11 years of providing AXI services, this is the first time a customer has attempted to micromanage AXI process details like field-of-view. Most customers just want conclusive images of the relevant defect. If specific parameters are required, list categorically in your Statement of Work (SOW) and purchase documentation what they are, and we will quote accordingly.

Up Media The Anthill's Revenge Human X-Ray
We are in the business of x-raying boards. Should we also x-ray heads?

Anything is possible. For money.

“Validation or verification documentation was not provided and should be available upon request.”

Answer: The AXI system has its own self-diagnostic routine, which is run regularly. Beyond that, the system is calibrated regularly. If a specific validation protocol above and beyond what is already being done is needed, please specify what it is, and we will endeavor to comply, while also accounting for the additional cost.

“AXI technicians are not certified to NAS 410 or equivalent NDT certifications.”

Answer: That’s true. Nobody asked us before. Now you have. We will acquire the requisite certifications; meanwhile, the equipment manufacturer has a responsible NAS 410 certified Level III technician who can sign off on manual x-ray projects if needed. One small, lingering problem: This does not apply to automated x-ray inspection (AXI). I am not aware of any AXI operation with NAS 410 personnel certifications (although it is possible they exist in some high-reliability captive mil/aero operations). Certainly not in the commercial world. We will train our people to reach this goal by the end of the year, and our quotes henceforth will reflect the cost of the training.

And off the answers went. I can hear the comeback now.

“Not good enough. Ignorance of these requirements is not an excuse for inaction.”

Your predecessors seemed quite comfortable with our “inaction” for 11 years. And, as for ignorance, if you don’t stipulate these things upfront as requirements in your written documentation, then who precisely is the ignorant party?

(Sound of grumbling and inaudible language.)

Rather than engaging in a fruitless mind-reading exercise, tell us what you want; we’ll return to you with the cost to do it; you’ll know where it stands, and you can show management what it costs. (I’m sure they’ll be thrilled at all the new, unbudgeted costs.) Can we go back to inspecting your boards now?

“Yes, but under the condition you fulfill the requirements listed on the CAR.”

Consider it done. You’ll get a timeline and a bill within the next two weeks.

And with that the anthill returned to its natural state (status quo ante). There were no unwanted or irrelevant incursions. All were happy ever after, and tranquility reigned upon the land.

Robert Boguski Headshot
ROBERT BOGUSKI
is president of Datest Corp. (datest.com); rboguski@datest.com. His column runs bimonthly.