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Why Use a Quality Assurance Program for Finite Element Analysis?

QA for FEA Consulting
August 21, 2015 By: Steven Hale

QA (Quality Assurance) programs are one of those project “overhead” items that engineers typically prefer to avoid.  They require more paperwork, checklists, logging, and reviewing: all tasks that can slow down the time to complete a project.  But, certain industries such as nuclear, medical devices, and health care require QA, and for good reason.  Its primary goal is to ensure conformance to strict industry standards, but it also helps to eliminate costly and dangerous errors, and improve overall quality.  So what is a QA Program, and how can it benefit a Finite Element or CFD analyst?

A QA program is a series of procedures that ensure that strict standards, such as those listed in NRC document 10CFR50 for the nuclear industry, are followed.  These procedures detail the requirements for personnel training, project activities, software usage and verification, documentation, design reviews, audits, error reporting, and corrective action.  A good QA program provides a system of checks and balances that help to minimize or eliminate costly mistakes.  

For Finite Element or CFD analysts in particular, a good QA program has a number of components that offer a range of benefits, including the following:

  • A project quality plan or similar document which details methods for satisfying the customer's project requirements and complying with all regulatory QA requirements.  This helps to organize all project documents, plan the analysis approach, and define analysis objectives.
  • A framework for the engineer to check for missing and incorrect inputs.  As we all know, if the inputs to a model are incorrect so are the results and conclusions.
  • Structured reporting requirements to ensure that reports are complete and fulfill all customer requirements. 
  • A system for checking models, results, and reports, including checks performed independently by someone other than the analyst.  The latter provides an independent review, helping to ensure quality, completeness, and accuracy.
  • A structure for reporting problems and planning/implementing corrective action.  After a report has been issued, you, a reviewer, or a customer may find a problem with an assumption, input, model, or reported result.  Instead of just making the correction and updating the report, this process clearly documents the problem and corrective action, helping to correct all downstream project activities and prevent problems where critical decisions are made based on earlier, incorrect versions of a model/report.   
  • A system for how all project documents are to be controlled, stored, labeled, traced, and distributed.  This system prevents a host of potential problems such as lost documents, duplicate documents with slight differences, different document revisions without proper labeling, and unauthorized changes to documents. 
  • A means of making sure that the Finite Element software gives correct results for an accepted set of problems.  This ensures that the software works correctly on your hardware and operating systems.  This is a critical requirement for the nuclear industry.

CAE Associates has written a QA program that it uses for all quality-related work.  This QA program conforms to the stringent standards of the nuclear industry; specifically NRC document 10CFR50 Appendix B.  The primary components of the program are included in a series of QA procedure documents as listed in Table 1.  Additional details about this plan can be found here.

A good QA program provides Finite Element analysts with structured procedures that improve overall project quality.  This translates into more accurate models, complete and accurate reports, and traceable, secure documentation.  While the additional effort required to apply these procedures will take more time, the improved quality and consistency will be apparent and should not be underestimated.

We are very interested to know about any experience you may have working under a QA program and what insights you have about its application and benefits, especially as applied to Finite Element analysis.