…does it take to screw in a bolt? From comments here:
Take a generic piece of Criticality 2 hardware:
1) First there needs to be a released, CM-controlled drawing signed off by (among others) a stress analyst who does calculations to ensure that the bolt is not being over- or under-torqued. The drawing must be referenced later by the technician to verify the proper torque range of the bolt.
2) Then a project engineer needs to write a Task Performance Sheet (TPS) that is no fewer than 4 pages long that documents, in excruciating detail, which bolt to tighten, what tools to use, the exact locations of every piece of hardware involved throughout the entire process. The part numbers, serial numbers, and lot numbers of every part involved are recorded on the TPS. (The work instruction document defining the TPS process is 55 pages)
3) The TPS needs to be signed by the Project Engineer, his/her manager, and two Quality Engineers (who designate “Mandatory Inspection Points – MIPs – where a Quality Assurance Specialist needs to monitor the process); additional signatures (e.g. stress or materials experts) may be needed depending on the job. Then a Quality Assurance Specialist looks over the paper, approves it, and sends it to the Quality Assurance Records Center (QARC) where it is scanned, copied, and then placed in a basket to be worked.
4) Oh, we need the bolt, too. The bolt has to meet certain quality and reliability specifications, so it is purchased from an approved vendor and is most likely a MIL-spec part. When the vendor ships the part, it must be traceable by lot or serial number and accompanied by a Certificate of Conformance (CoC). The Receiving department will open the package, inspect the parts and make sure the CoC is present. Then some percentage of bolts from that lot of bolts will go to the Receiving Inspection and Test Facility (RITF) and be tested to ensure that the bolts actually meet the MIL Specs (in spite of the CoC being present). Then the RITF report is attached to the lot of bolts, with the CoC, and they all go to bonded storage.
5) The Project Engineer takes the TPS to the bond room, and someone pulls the bolt off the shelf, then a QAS makes sure that the proper part was pulled and that the CoC and RITF report are indeed attached. The parts are labeled and bagged and the Project Engineer is called to pick up the paper and part.
6) These get walked to the work area, then the Project Engineer rounds up two QASs and a union technician who has received special training on how to tighten bolts (no joke). The technician gathers the calibrated tools.
7) The technician tightens the bolt and records the tightening torque on the TPS. The QAS and NT QAS stamp the TPS to verify that they witnessed the bolt being torqued. (While the bolt is actually being tightened, 3-4 people are present watching.)
8) The Project Engineer and one of the QASs will take the hardware back to the bond room or wherever it needs to go. If the hardware is going back to the bond room, it has to be cleaned and sealed in a bag first.
9) The Project Engineer takes the TPS back to the quality office, where one or two QASs will go through the document and make sure that all of the required information was recorded and each step in the process was stamped or signed by all of the required people. Then the QAS will stamp the TPS “closed” and send it back to the QARC office, who will scan and copy it again.
I’m not going to debate the wisdom of any of these steps; any one of them are defensible in some instance. But I count around a dozen people immediately involved in the process and in general I’d say it takes a couple of days, assuming none of the required people find something they view as amiss. I’ll also point out that this is the process, as I understand it, as of today; every few weeks someone will get a wild hair up their ass and add another requirement.
In all fairness, though: I’m fairly confident that most of these people don’t make $100k a year. If they do, I need to have a talk with 4 of my managers about my salary 🙂
Every one of those procedures evolved as a response to some kind of mishappening, and they’ve accreted over decades, but if you want to know why NASA programs cost so much and take so long, there you go. And despite all of that, they destroyed two orbiters that cost a couple billion each to build, and shut down the program for years. So even when failure isn’t an option, failures occur. What is needed is an attitude that failures must be allowed for the program to succeed. The other related attitude that’s required is that what we’re doing is important, which allows the taking of risk.
[Update a couple minutes later]
I would note that one of the reasons that SpaceX can avoid a lot of this quality acceptance stuff is that they manufacture so much in house, and are vertically integrated, as a result of the fact that they couldn’t find contractors who were responsive to their needs in terms of price and schedule. The traditional NASA/AF way has bred a culture among the lower subcontractor tiers that isn’t useful for those trying to lower costs. We need to replace the existing infrastructure with more nimble players. The growing new space industry will help make that happen, but it won’t happen overnight.