Setting up a FOD program for the maintenance facility

By Michelle Garetson
February 1999

Rock, scissors, paper. A kid's game? Maybe, but in the aviation arena, these items can all become FOD (Foreign Object Debris) and can go on to cause Foreign Object Damage, also known as FOD. Foreign Object Damage happens when any object or substance is introduced to a system and causes that system to malfunction or be degraded. This debris takes many forms — tools, flashlights, paperwork, duct caps, gravel, metal shavings — anything extra or abnormal that is left in the nooks and crannies of an airplane during assembly or maintenance. Outside of the aircraft, belt buckles, entry workstands, and chemicals used by personnel can mar airplane skins and cause FOD situations.

Foreign Object Debris can be alive too. Birds striking the airplane while both are in flight, or birds ingested during engine testing, or even wildlife such as deer on the runway, can significantly damage the aircraft as well as cause human casualties.

Nature has other ways of alerting us to FOD problems. A few years ago, a very well-constructed bird's nest was found on the fixed leading edge of a 767 awaiting delivery on Boeing's Everett flight line. Technicians, while removing the grass and twig structure, noticed that woven throughout the nest were other materials such as staples, paper clips, rubber bands, paper, and safety wire. What this miniature fortress suggested to personnel was that there was a housekeeping problem regarding potential FOD, and reminded the group to keep a continued focus on efforts to eliminate debris in the manufacturing environment and in their finished products.

Financial impacts from FOD in the aerospace industry are staggering when one figures in all of the ancillary effects caused by FOD. Revenues are lost through interrupted manufacturing schedules; delays in scheduled flights or space missions; additional and unscheduled maintenance; reworking and scrapping of parts — basically, anything that disrupts the flow of work will disrupt the flow of revenue. FOD events and the severity of those events can also cause loss of revenue through customer dissatisfaction and a damaged reputation. Safety is paramount in the aviation industry and any perception of an unsafe operation will result in a reduction in business and ultimately, profits.

Dan Swanburg, FOD Program Manager for Boeing Commercial Airplane Group in Everett, Washington, speaks to groups on the topic of setting up FOD programs. He is also a member of the National Aerospace FOD Prevention Inc.(NAPFI) and reports that NAPFI data estimates FOD industry-wide is about a $3 to $4 billion a year problem.

Setting up the FOD program
Swanburg says the first step is to define the problem for management.

"What's necessary right off the bat is figuring out what the problem is — what is FOD costing per year? The focus should not be only on money because it's extremely important in our industry that organizations realize their reputations are at stake. For Boeing, it is crucial that people feel safe on our products, whether it's a commercial airplane, a space station, or a fighter jet. So, reputation is important to all companies. But, when you start talking about the money, you can look to internal records for things like insurance claims and incidents of damage. Cost of rework, cost of scrapped parts, out of sequence work — for example, out of sequence work for a maintenance facility could be that an airplane has just left and is not due back for maybe a couple thousand hours, but now comes back after a hundred hours. That's expensive."

Where to get help with a FOD program

In a recent telephone interview, Swanburg explained the importance of having such programs and provided some guidelines for establishing, tailoring, and maintaining a FOD plan.

AMT: First of all, are there any documents, compliance regulations, etc. regarding FOD from the FAA, OSHA, or other organizations, required for manufacturing and maintenance operations?

DS: In our case, our approved quality system controls foreign object debris through individual accountability during our build cycle, and we share these FOD challenges with other people in the aerospace industry. But, we do have some guidelines available to us and the FAA does recognize FOD prevention with their Advisory Circular, 150/5380-5B, entitled Debris Hazards at Civil Airports. It is available on their web site (

Maybe the best document to reference when setting up a FOD program is National Aerospace Standard 412 (NAS 412) and that's available from the Aerospace Industries Association. (

AMT: Does NAS 412 pertain specifically to your type of operation or does it go across the board?

DS: It goes across the board. Both of these documents were put together with the help of NAPFI ( National Aerospace FOD Prevention Inc.). NAPFI is a national organization of which Boeing is a member and large supporter, and whose focus is on FOD prevention.

It's an interesting story on how NAS 412 came to be. NAPFI put together a booklet called The Industry Guidelines. As a result of putting that out, they got together with the folks from Aerospace Industries Association, and this booklet became the source for NAS 412. What NAPFI's goal was, was to have kind of a "FOD umbrella" that everybody would be covered under so that one document could be used as a reference for the industry. It's a great document — it's general enough in overview that it lets people look at it and then pull out of it what they need for their particular organization. In addition to these guidelines, FOD conferences are very helpful to those wanting to develop a program for their facility as well as for those who already have a FOD program in place. Boeing will be co-hosting the National FOD Conference with NAPFI in August of this year. People wanting to start a FOD program in their business, this conference is an excellent one to go to — I refer to it as "going to FOD college"— there's a lot of great information there. More information is available on NAPFI's web site (

One of the things that's important for people to understand is that they don't have to do this alone, there's a lot of help available in the industry through NAPFI and through other organizations.

These numbers are not always easy to put together and sometimes your best estimates are what you'll have to use.

The second step would be to benchmark with other companies. It's important when you're starting a program to look at others who already have a program in place. The military is an excellent example of an organization that does an outstanding job at preventing FOD.

Educating company leadership is important as well. Program developers need to:

• Show the problems — show what's been happening as a result of the investigations once the problems have been defined.
• Prepare and present a cost analysis — "What do we estimate this is costing the company?"
• Funding — as with any program, you're going to need funding to get started. So, identifying a portion of the cost, a portion of what it has cost that particular outfit to have FOD in their systems, you can look at that and say, "Could I have maybe ten percent of that to put together a program that I think will keep us from having some of these costs?"
• Target a return on investment based on realistic goals — realistic goals are a key issue here. This is not something that is going to turn around overnight. It requires a culture change. The military has a program where the first day you're working anywhere near flight operations, you have training on FOD prevention, and that mentality stays with you through the entire process. But, we don't get all of the people from the military — we get people from schools, some people have on-the-job training, so we have to make sure that we base our goals realistically — we're in this for the long haul. We're not sure when they come through the door, what experiences with FOD they've had, so proper training is necessary.

Gaining top-level management support is an extremely important part of the program. If employees see that management is taking an active role and that they're supporting the program from the very highest levels, then it becomes much more important for them to follow suit. If we don't get that, it can really impede the success of the program.

Setting up processes and procedures is a major step. The program should be tailored to the specific area. For instance, you don't want to have a NASA-oriented FOD program at a small aircraft maintenance facility — it simply wouldn't work. You want to make sure that you look at the guidelines, NAS 412 (please see sidebar), and determine what you can pull out of that document, to create your own plan. In tailoring the program, for example, in the area of tool control, you would need to decide what type of tool control would be necessary.

It's important too that there is a process owner — somebody willing to take charge of the program, maintain the documents, and work with the team. In many companies, the FOD program is run from the Safety Office.

Gaining employee involvement is essential for a successful plan. FOD prevention is a program that has to be supported from the top down; and it has to be worked from the grass roots level up. It's important to instill program ownership to the employees. Our program is a success because we have a strong base of employee involvement. It's important that problems be presented to employee teams — the people who work in our manufacturing areas are smarter about working in our manufacturing areas than anybody else. So, we want to make sure that those people have the opportunity to say how they would improve things in that area based on their experiences. Soliciting observations and solutions from those people is very important. It's essential to recruit key players from all areas of your operation. You want enthusiastic people who want to do this, to be involved.

Education and awareness are the keys to a good FOD program. Annual training for everyone is something that is essential. At least remind people once a year with some type of formal training about the key elements of the FOD prevention program. Training is a formalized process and new people should be trained in FOD awareness right away. There's lots of help available and NAPFI has an extensive video library and will send people videos upon request.

People like incentives. Try to award things not so significant that they are fought over. Boeing gives items like hats, T-shirts, coffee mugs, with FOD prevention themes on them. People are nominated by their peers and awards are given at crew and staff meetings. Each year carries a different theme and the 1999 theme is "Clean As You Go." FOD prevention however, is ongoing, it's a campaign. A yearly theme, we've found, has been a good way to keep the message in front of the people. Boeing also has a mobile FOD display, displays with found items, and posters to promote FOD awareness.

Maintaining a program
While themes, displays, newsletters, and awards are good for keeping personnel focused on FOD, Swanburg offers things technicians can do to help to maintain the program.

• Follow the area FOD procedures and work to a "clean as you go" ethic. Clean after each job or operation to ensure that the area is FOD-free.
•Report lost tools or lost items—anything that they notice that is not there at the end of the day. It's very important that people are praised for coming forward to report missing items — if they feel threatened by that, you won't hear anything.
• Be accountable for the tools used — whatever is taken on to the aircraft, must come back and they need to verify that before they close an area, that the area is FOD-free. Boeing technicians actually designed and implemented a tool control program by developing a "shadowbox" arrangement for their toolbox, an idea borrowed from the military, for tool storage. A contoured space exists for every tool to help ensure accountability. Going further, when an employee begins their shift, they acquire a ring of tool checks for the tools they will need that day. When a tool is removed from the box, a tool check is placed in the open space created — there is one check per tool necessary for the task. At the end of the day, checks and tools should balance, no empty spaces in the tool drawer and a full ring of checks is turned back in.
• Securing loose items prior to and during the entry onto an aircraft is essential. Sometimes technicians go into areas that are very small. They need to be sure that anything — loose change, badges, pens, and pencils — be removed from their pockets so that it does not fall out and become FOD. Even pins from safety glasses, if they are not locking pins, can fall out and become FOD.
• Perform daily visual inspections. FOD walks — inspections of the areas around the flight line and in the hangar, should be done by management and technicians, together. These walks are significant in a couple of ways. First, it cleans up the area. Second, it promotes that picking up FOD is everyone's responsibility.
• Employees should be involved with management to eliminate FOD. This is essential in a FOD program. Employees should feel comfortable in talking with management about FOD and in working together to combat the problem.
• Developing a constant awareness of FOD by keeping the message alive through posters, newsletters, incentive programs, etc., is an important step for maintaining success in a program.

Preventing and rectifying FOD problems

• Establish metrics — the ways that you track things; keeping data and measurements, is essential to any FOD program. These metrics can involve self-audits, maybe have an audit team that looks at an operation to check for FOD and to catalog the types of items found in order to identify patterns in the problem. If incidents are not tracked, the operation ends up with a collection of events that get treated separately but may in fact be FOD related trends.
• Track escapements. Anything that escapes your area and winds up down the line or elsewhere, you'll want to make sure you keep that in your metrics.
• Quality metrics. Whenever there are rejection slips or pickups written, look for particular trends in those articles to see if they are FOD related.
• FOD teams are great for rectifying situations. Teams work to create a database system to spot trends that will help in finding solutions as well as to communicate to others some of their findings and best practices.

Future of FOD Programs
According to Swanburg, gathering metrics is one of the challenges of FOD programs. The metrics, and being able to gather those facts and data, sometimes are really difficult to do. Establishing those metrics will be key for our programs to grow and to actually improve.

Finally he adds, there's the culture change. The military has from day one instilled in their people that FOD is unacceptable. The private sector has adopted that culture, but they are not at the same level as the military — we're still educating people, we're still moving in a direction of higher awareness. This achievement of awareness is a victory in a FOD program and the level of awareness to the problem in this industry has really soared. This trend looks to continue through increased attendance at conferences and through the development of their own programs — people are taking a proactive approach to the fighting of FOD.

Rock, scissors, paper. While rock may break scissors and paper covers rock, a well-developed FOD program breaks potentially hazardous situations and safely covers employees and customers of the successful maintenance facility.