Loral Exec Warns of Too Much Oversight

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Satellite manufacturer Space Systems/Loral is asking satellite operators to think twice before imposing their quality-control requirements on manufacturers that have developed their own internal processes with a proven record of success.

Christopher F. Hoeber, senior vice president for program management at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Loral, said the company has put into place a product development system that for the past 10 years has improved quality and reliability.

Nonetheless, he said, some satellite operators insist on imposing their own hard-won systems-management practices on their suppliers. Hoeber said that while a dialogue between customers and suppliers should be constant, asking the manufacturer to depart from a successful quality-assurance program introduces risks into the system.

“Let’s take something as basic as testing. We test component ‘A’ and then component ‘B,’ whereas the operator may be used to testing ‘B’ before ‘A,’” Hoeber said. “Asking people to test one way on Tuesday and another day on Wednesday could lead to confusion.”

Several of the world’s largest satellite fleet operators have their own engineering teams that, as their fleets have developed, have created a set of production guidelines that they seek to impose on their suppliers.

An official with satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg said these practices have been honed over the years after experience with numerous satellite builders, and after finding weaknesses in some suppliers’ practices. “Manufacturers should be able to learn lessons from others,” the SES official said.

Hoeber agreed, but said there are sometimes more ways than one to arrive at a quality result, and that mixing up two proven procedures may undermine both.

“Satellite owners have every right to expect, and to demand, performance from their suppliers,” Hoeber said. “I ask only that they be careful when imposing their own procedures on a manufacturer whose products already perform well.”

Hoeber cited satellite solar-array circuits, which he said were the last significant problem encountered in Loral’s 1300 satellite model product line. Loral instituted a series of product modifications and since then has built 37 satellites now in orbit, and none has had a problem with its solar-array circuits, he said.