By Michelle Garetson
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?
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How it works, how to get it
Technology is changing the game and making rapid response possible