The sequence of steps that comprise the solution development process are crucial when it comes to ensuring that the final product is delivered on time and to the required standards.
The first stage involves an initial request for quotation by a customer, which is often a simple document and sometimes a statement of work that outlines what exactly is required of us as the developers. This will usually require further clarification in order to determine the specifics of the product in addition to special terms and conditions that may impact us and the process further down the line. Because the scope of the task will not yet have been defined, a precise quotation may not be provided to the customer at this stage. However, the customer will receive a Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) quotation to give some idea of the cost, which could progress to a Not To Exceed (NTE) quotation as we get closer to locking in the final solution.
The next stage of the process focuses on feasibility, which is where we would do our own concept development. This can involve a variety of concepts, each including cost and weight analyses, which would then allow us to provide samples of the front runners as a proof of concept. One of the most important steps, particularly for HITEC, is getting hardware on the table as this really drives the process forward and the progression of the project as a whole. Whilst it is possible to discuss aspects of the project and look at drawings and models in a meeting, it sometimes takes a physical piece of hardware to enable us to observe the product fully and acknowledge some of the issues that remain to be resolved. This is why at HITEC, we are firm believers of getting hardware on the table as an essential step within the solution development process.
The following steps involve a technical specification and proposal. The technical specification is formed using the original requirement as the foundation and expanding on it to create a multiple page document including all of the different requirements with all the necessary parameters that need to be controlled and managed appropriately. The reason for this is to provide a frame of reference for when we come to do our process work along with product acceptance and release. Therefore, the technical specification must be defined and agreed with the customer to ensure that what is being specified is realistic and reasonable for the application in question. Subsequently, the technical proposal takes an in depth look at the details of what we, as the developers, are proposing to do, how we will do it, the risk assessments we will carry out including program risk assessment, and our process capability to ensure we actually have the means of producing the final product.
Moving forward, the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) is a crucial stage which involves the defining of all drawings and processes. This is often done in draft form in order to gain customer approval for the approach being taken and to make any necessary changes as instructed by the customer or further along the line from their customer. This then progresses to the Critical Design Review (CDR), which is a key milestone because the outcome of this is a set of production-released drawings, at which point we can get our subcontractors working and start making PCBs and cutting metal. It is imperative that all key analyses are complete at this point because the drawings must be finalised and released. An outcome of the Critical Design Review is production release, a major milestone.
Once the qualification assets have been built, they need to be prepared for testing in order to progress to the next stage of the process which is the Test Readiness Review (TRR). This is to ensure that the Design Verification Test (DVT) process is fully defined and agreed with the customer and to make sure we have the equipment that we need to complete testing, such as the specially-adapted test rigs that are needed for endurance testing. To prepare the test assets, we need to know what tests will be performed on which assets and in what order, to ensure that the process will provide the right accumulated stresses and the appropriate consumption of product life.
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After dealing with any issues that arise during DVT, we can progress to the formal Qualification for the items and the customers can begin their tests at system level. In some cases there will be endurance testing still running in the background, but ultimately there is a minimum level that has to be achieved before any hardware can be released for flight and this is known as Safety Of Flight (SOF). The remainder of the endurance is accumulated as the initial flight tests take place for that respective part. The net result of this is the certification of the airframe, which runs back through each of the components within the overall structure to provide the necessary qualification that will enable us to progress to a production phase.
This requires a Production Readiness Review (PRR), which ensures that all of the tools, equipment, skills and control measures are in place and have been verified and validated to ensure that production parts will meet the same standards and performance levels of the qualification samples. The major emphasis is control of variability and the immediate investigation and resolution of anomalies and issues that arise during the build.
It is necessary to ensure that the company undertaking an aerospace project has a proper structured approach and is fully capable of handling every step of the process so that the program does not drift off course. Delays have significant implications – not only do they cost a substantial amount of money, but penalties can also be incurred. The key to avoiding any complications such as these is to follow procedure and be very strict about adhering to each step of the solution development process. It can be tempting to try and take shortcuts and cut corners, but there is a reason that the process has been devised so explicitly, therefore it is essential that it is strictly adhered to.