Initial sample testing in the automotive sector


What is the significance of initial sample tests in the automotive sector? An overview.

Automotive manufacturing involves the use of a large number of components from multiple suppliers, each of which must comply with specific standards or quality requirements. In this context, initial sample testing plays an important role.

What is an initial sample test?

An initial sample test, or first article inspection, is the sampling of the first specimen of a component or end product, that has been manufactured under series production conditions. This so-called initial sample is checked for various quality requirements before the product can be released for series production. Some of these requirements are customer-specific, i.e. (in the case of the automotive industry) they are defined individually by the respective automobile manufacturer as required. Another part of the requirements of an initial sample inspection is defined by standards that are applied across manufacturers and in some cases across industries. These standards relate not only to the physical properties of the sample itself but also to the circumstances under which it is manufactured, specifically to the quality management systems of the suppliers.

What are the most important standards for automotive initial sample testing?

Two of the most important reference works for initial sample testing in the automotive sector are the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) of the North American Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) and VDA Volume 2 ("Assuring the Quality of Deliveries") of the German Association of the Automotive Industry. The PPAP regulations list various documents and parts that the supplier must provide for successful approval of the initial sample. These include measurement results, specific test equipment, process diagrams and design records. VDA Volume 2, in turn, defines a similar sampling procedure with the so-called production process and product release (PPF). In addition, for the international harmonization of quality management systems of automotive suppliers, the IATF 16949 standard is published by the International Automotive Task Force (until October 2016: ISO/TS 16949). This standard builds on ISO 9001 and specifies requirements for suppliers' quality management systems that are also relevant in the context of initial sample testing.

In addition to general quality management requirements, automotive first article inspections also test for specific standards, such as DIN, ASTM or factory standards. Important examples are sun simulation tests, e.g. according to DIN 75220, or salt spray tests, e.g. according to BMW AA-0324. Flammability tests, e.g. according to DBL 5307, are also part of the initial sample testing for numerous vehicle parts.

The Automotive Industry Guideline on REACH (AIG) can also be used for automotive sampling. Developed and continuously updated by a task force of various automotive industry associations, the AIG provides automotive manufacturers and suppliers with recommendations for implementing the EU chemicals regulation REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation (and Restriction) of Chemicals).

How does an automotive initial sample test work?

The exact procedure of an automotive first article inspection can vary depending on the company. In general, the automotive manufacturer communicates the sampling requirements and the formalities for the procedure to the supplier who carries out the initial sample test. For example, some manufacturers provide guidelines, cover sheets, sample templates, and other documents for this purpose. It is then the supplier's task to compile the required documents, produce the initial sample, and carry out the necessary tests in accordance with the specifications. The result of these activities is the so-called initial sample test report (EMPB), which is submitted to the automobile manufacturer together with the initial sample to prove that the sample meets the quality requirements. If this is the case, the manufacturer issues the release for series production for the component and places the order with the supplier.

How can automotive suppliers manage initial sample testing digitally?

There is a wide range of software solutions for conducting initial sample inspections that can support automotive suppliers at various points in the sampling process. Some of these are comprehensive quality management software solutions that also embed sampling functions. Other programs focus entirely on the creation of initial sample inspection reports. Still, others are cloud-based platforms that digitize the entire exchange between supplier and automaker during the sampling process.

If you are a supplier and are looking for a suitable testing laboratory for a specific test as part of initial sample testing, you can also submit a free request via the online platform testxchange, for example, to obtain comparative offers from suitable industrial testing laboratories.