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ASU now certificated to build sensitive aerospace, defense instruments in-house

Marks ASU as one of a few universities in the US with a certified facility

A machine in the Instrument Design and Fabrication Core Facility

The Instrument Design and Fabrication Core Facility provides electrical and mechanical design, custom manufacturing and additional research and development support for academic and industry clients. Photo by Andy DeLisle

May 20, 2024

When Christopher Groppi needs a new tool for work, he can’t just go to the hardware store.

Groppi is an experimental astrophysicist at Arizona State University. His research demands unique and sensitive instruments requiring custom fabrication at highly certified and outfitted commercial aerospace machine shops. But contracting with such companies can be a time-consuming and costly process.

“High capability aerospace machine shops aren’t really interested in this kind of work. They're doing stuff for General Dynamics and Honeywell, and we're a little customer — they're not interested in making one-off things. They want million-dollar orders where their machines run 24 hours a day. We get the ‘I don’t want to do it’ price,” said Groppi, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration

Fortunately for Groppi, one of ASU’s Core Research Facilities was recently certified to take on such one-off, custom jobs in-house, as well as the ability to measure them and verify that they meet aviation, space and defense industry requirements.

The Instrument Design and Fabrication Core Facility achieved AS9100D certification from Performance Review Institute Registrar in late March, distinguishing it as one of only a few U.S. university facilities to do so.

“To be able to partake in research and development projects, the specialized projects that are within all of the areas of aerospace, defense, Federal Aviation Administration and space is not only a huge step for our facility, but the entire community that we serve,” said Brian Ipema, operations director for Instrument Design and Fabrication, one of 30 distinct facilities within ASU Core Research Facilities, which offer state-of-the-art equipment and specialized research and development services to academic researchers, large companies and startups.  

The facility previously secured ISO 9001:2015 certification from INTERCERT in 2022, paving the way for AS9100D in March. A worldwide standard used by organizations of all sizes, ISO 9001:2015 is managed by the International Organization for Standardization and sets standards for quality management systems to ensure ongoing improvement, adherence to regulatory requirements and customer satisfaction.

AS9100D is an additional set of standards built atop ISO 9001:2015 that meets the requirements of the aerospace industry. It is maintained by the Aerospace division of SAE International and the International Aerospace Quality Group.  

Instrument Design and Fabrication provides electrical and mechanical design, custom manufacturing and additional research and development support for internal and external university researchers as well as industry clients. The new certification expands the services the facility can provide to clients, and even makes them a more attractive resource for large aerospace companies, said Ipema.

“We’re well-positioned to be specialized research and development. We can provide a proof of concept that they can then scale up and put into production,” Ipema said.  

On the heels of their ISO 9001:2015 certification in 2022, Groppi contracted Instrument Design and Fabrication to work on the Terahertz Intensity Mapper, a NASA-funded balloon-borne observatory that will look at the light from early galaxies. The facility constructed the long-wavelength optics of the 2-meter diameter telescope from machined aluminum, which will launch for a test flight from Antarctica in August.  

“A lot of universities have done away with their machine-shop facilities and that's a terribly shortsighted decision, because the research we do at universities cannot realistically be supported by industry. It's just not the business model of industry and what we need doesn't fit,” Groppi said. “So for us to be able to continue doing what we do, it's super important that the facility exists and actually is expanding rather than shrinking, as is the case at many universities.”

Paul Medina, assistant director of the Operations Project Management Office in ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise, worked with the facility to obtain both certifications. The years-long process included developing a documented quality management system that adheres to the standards set forth by ISO 9001:2015 and AS9100D and is strictly implemented by all personnel. Through a series of audits, Performance Review Institute Registrar reviewed documentation, observed processes and interviewed personnel to ensure compliance with standards. ISO 9001: 2015 and AS9100D are recertified every three years and audited annually to ensure compliance. 

Randy Daugharthy, vice president of business development at Performance Review Institute Registrar, said Instrument Design and Fabrication demonstrated its commitment to world class quality by earning the certification.

“They have joined an elite number of organizations worldwide who have achieved certification to this globally recognized quality standard,” Daugharthy said.

“That level of quality assurance was already ingrained in our process and culture,” Medina said. “We just took it the next step beyond, and we've done something that very few have done, especially at a university level.”

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