Leading Japanese Steelmaker Reports Falsified QC Data

Entrance to Kobe Steel's Kobe Works (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 2017-10-12 16:47:32

Leading Japanese steelmaker Kobe Steel (Kobelco) has admitted that it has discovered falsified data related to the quality of commodities like rolled aluminum, copper and powdered iron ore, pushing hundreds of its customers to examine their supply chains. Over 200 manufacturers are potentially affected, including household names like Toyota, Ford and Boeing. 

“Data in inspection certificates had been improperly rewritten . . . and the products were shipped as having met the specifications concerned,” Kobe Steel admitted in a statement, acknowledging that the misrepresentation was “improper conduct." So far, the firm has not identified any cases in which a non-conforming product was used in a manner that poses a safety risk. 

Kobe Steel has not released the names of the manufacturers that received the affected goods, nor whether any of its own products might have incorporated them. But one industry source alleges that the quality control problem for steel materials may extend into the offshore sector, and beyond Kobe Steel's products alone. If true, it could represent a new parallel to the offshore industry's bolt-failure quality control problem, a well-publicized series of equipment malfunctions and near-misses due to improperly manufactured fasteners. 

The issue first came to light in 2012 when 36 giant bolts on a blowout preventer failed during testing. A multi-year investigation led by the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement concluded that the suppliers of the bolts for several blowout preventers were cutting corners on their manufacturing processes, raising the risk of failure. The quality control problems stemmed from "second and third tier sub-contracted vendors that performed heat-treatment processes" on the bolts. 

"Bolt failures have been and continue to be a recurring problem . . . Further, these failures have involved equipment from three primary manufacturers of equipment, which suggests that the problem may be systemic," the Bureau wrote in a 2016 letter. BSEE said that it was working with industry to "address the bolt failures and to drive . . . reforms that address the use of multiple tiers of subcontractors during the fabrication process."