As experienced independent accredited metallurgists, Keighley Laboratories Limited have spent decades evaluating the quality of metals and manufactured metallic components. This inevitably involves carrying out investigations into the modes and causes of very large numbers of failures and problems.
For the last decade and more this has involved evaluations on materials & components imported from the far-east, usually at costs substantially below a UK manufactured product; these evaluations have necessarily involved investigating failures of critical engineered components, including those from Aerospace, Defence, Automotive and Power Generation.
Those making decisions to procure the cheapest possible product without consideration of the possible consequences should beware.
Keighley Laboratories have found that a majority of far-eastern materials examined fail in some way. They fail to comply with the requirements of the drawings and design. Sometimes catastrophically so. Overall failure rate is probably at least 60% but in specific cases this has risen to 90%. For some customers 100%.
The anomalies seen include:
incorrect heat treatments,
raw material defects,
materials that bear no relationship to supplier certificates and
total lack of traceability etc.
One common attempt to justify the situation is for a joint venture to be set up between a UK and a far eastern supplier, claiming that because the direct UK involvement is hands – on the quality will be OK. From the experience of Keighley Laboratories Limited this very often makes no difference whatsoever.
In one case a customer took a joint venture with a foundry in the far-east to manufacture high temperature / high pressure valve components. Over a two year period the Quality Manager visited the supplier and witnessed metallurgical tests carried out. They then brought the spare test pieces back to Keighley for over-checking. In that two year period, all test pieces passed when tested by the supplier. And yet all 100% failed when independently tested.
In other areas routine tests on standard and special fasteners have routinely showed totally incorrect materials, heat treatments or strength grades.
Another very important issue raised is the trustworthiness of the suppliers.In many cases
where initial samples have been largely acceptable, when the production starts the materials vary substantially and very often fail to comply. At least two cases have undisputedly proved that “initial samples” provided by far eastern supplier were genuine components from the OEM Western source. They were simply rebadged in the far-east!
One of the usual reasons given by the Western management for buying far eastern product is that everyone else is doing it. So to survive and compete they have to do the same. In the writer’s very firm view this is at best naive and at worst will put the Western supplier at severe risk when failures and problems do occur.
The very minimum that should occur is that far eastern products should be thoroughly over-checked by an independent UK laboratory. These over-checks should be regular and not simply first-off related.
In conclusion, Western purchasers should apply the same stringent rules to far eastern products that they would apply to UK produced products. Or give the UK suppliers the opportunity to supply inferior products at much reduced costs.
Keith Blower, Group Technical Director, Keighley Laboratories Limited.