My past columns have detailed how military electronics are being used in an ever-increasing application rate. Looking forward, this trend is likely to continue and will be further accelerated by space exploration and the Space Force. Space also promises new technologies, materials, and processes that might become a gamechanger for the industry.
Rethinking the military and aerospace market for the next decade might be worth considering. Furthermore, a segment of this market is PWBs fabricated to MIL-PRF-31032. The key to accessing this market is certification to MIL-PRF-31032. This column will explain seven certification steps, resources, and timetables for consideration.
Certification for MIL-PRF-31032
This is a summary of the basic steps to certification. As you read these steps, please remember that MIL-PRF-31032 does not spell out a step-by-step process. The steps outlined here are what I consider to be the most logical and efficient method.
The process can be segmented into seven distinct subgroups or phases. The timeframe for each phase is listed as a range. The range depends on familiarity with MIL-PRF-31032, resources available, and ISO-9000 status. Also, note that the time ranges listed assume ISO-9000 registration has already been obtained.
Certification entails implementing a quality management system (QMS) for MIL-PRF-31032, building and testing products that meet all the requirements, conducting a self-audit that validates requirements, and verifying of all these actions by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) at your site.
Step 1: Certification Initiation and Training
In this first phase, your company must notify the DLA in Columbus, Ohio, of its intent to certify. Following that, an implementation team should be formed and trained.
Once the start is acknowledged by DLA, a thorough review of the MIL-PRF-31032 documents must be done and communicated within the implementation team. The implementation team will carry the title of the Technical Review Board (TRB) per MIL-PRF-31032. TRB’s first assignment should be to get basic MIL-PRF-31032 training/familiarization. Once this training is complete, the next step of system documentation can begin.
The certification initiation and training phase will take about 30–45 days.
Step 2: Documentation Phase: Quality Management Plan
The documentation for certification is contained in the QM plan (i.e., the military quality manual, which is the central heart of the process). A manufacturer’s QM plan is its means of ensuring that printed boards meet the requirements of MIL-PRF-31032. The QM plan is a controlled document or set of documents that cover each requirement of MIL-PRF-31032.
The time required for this step will range from 1–3 months.
Step 3: Three Phases of Fabrication—Planning, Fabrication, and Testing of Qualification Parts
As the QM plan is being completed, the qualification test plan can also be finished and sent to DLA for approval. This qualification plan defines the design attributes, fabrication steps, testing, and associated documentation for such parts.
When the QM plan is approved by DLA, the TRB can begin the building of the qualification boards. Regardless of when the boards and/or test vehicles are fabricated, they are built using the new QM documentation.
The time required for this step is 20–60 days.
Step 4: Self-Audit Process
The audit phase of MIL-PRF-31032 consists of a self-validation audit (per the checklist as defined in your QM documentation).
Self-validation is the manufacturer’s means of determining compliance with MIL-PRF-31032 and the QM program. This self-validation process is exactly the same as the self-audits of ISO-9000/AS9100.
The time required for this step is 1–2 weeks.
Step 5: Pre-Validation Submittal
Once the self-validation is complete, it’s time to prepare the pre-validation submission for DLA. The pre-validation package consists of the QM plan, the self-validation audit and corrective actions, and the qualification test plan and results. These three items are necessary to obtain a validation audit from DLA.
The time required for this step is 1–5 days.
Step 6: DLA Validation Audit
The qualifying activity (DLA) will review the pre-validation submission for compliance with MIL-PRF-31032. DLA will schedule a validation audit once all of the pre-validation information is approved. This audit is a detailed review of your entire military management system (QM) and its potential effectivity. The audit report will identify all validation findings that do not meet MIL-PRF-31032.
The time required for this phase is a function of internal and DLA resources and can vary considerably. DLA’s validation audit depends on how much time has been allocated to audits and how many companies are ahead of your request.
As a result, this phase can take from 2–7 months.
Step 7: Implementation and Certification
In this final phase, the TRB must respond with actions to all initial DLA validation findings. Any rejected corrective actions to audit findings will be communicated in writing to the attention of the TRB. TRB is responsible for closing each finding with DLA.
Once all the corrective actions have been approved by the qualifying activity (DLA) and all the qualification fabrication data is accepted, a MIL-PRF-31032 certification will be issued. The certification letter from DLA will detail the approved technologies of your qualified manufacturers list (QML).
This last phase will take 30–60 days, and adding the times of all the seven phases results in a range of 5–12 months to complete the certification.
Certification to MIL-PRF-31032 offers a wider range of the PWB military aerospace sector than just the parts built to IPC-6012. Certification, of course, does not come easy and requires some hard, dedicated work. However, as they always say, “No pain, no gain.” Life certainties are said to be only death and paying taxes, but the consistent revenue stream of future military aerospace electronics is a close third.
This column originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of PCB007 Magazine.