Industrial Safety implications of the Kobe steel scandal?

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Oct 16, 2017– Japan’s Kobe Steel scandal continues to generate shocks in the industrial community. If you have not yet heard of it, reports say that Kobe Steel had a huge QA/QC problem of data falsification. In other words, without actually testing the quality or “fitness for use” of different grades of steel, their staff simply generated fake data and certificates! This has major industrial safety implications, as it is not clear if steel parts used in critical applications like nuclear power plants were fit for use.

Considering that the company supplies steel to many hi-tech industries such as those making bullet trains, nuclear plants and even planes, the issue could result in major headaches as mechanical integrity¬† is very important from an industrial safety viewpoint and this depends on the material’s fitness for use. One cannot have simply steel that is not good enough to withstand pressure and break and thereby lead to loss of containment, especially in hazardous industrial processes such as nuclear power generation. Kobe’s customers for special steels include plane makers such as Boeing and nuclear power operators such as Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

This could have far reaching implications on Industrial Safety, particularly with regards to nuclear power plants. TEPCO just announced that it replaced a Kobe-made piece of equipment, offering no other details. Kobe, however, is a major producer of nuclear power plants components.This is when the memories of the Fukushima nuclear accident (the plant was operated by TEPCO) are still fresh.

Reports say that Kobe hasn’t estimated the likely size of the financial hit¬† from this scandal and the CEO asserted that it will bear the costs of any product recalls by its customers. However as this happened over a 10 year period and since it was not just restricted to steel but also other metals such as aluminum and copper parts, the implications could be mind boggling. Global supply chains being highly complex and steel or copper being a very basic material, the number of parts that have been fabricated using these faked certificate lots will be in the billions. It will be very difficult for a customer such as a car maker or an auto maker to trace if any of its component makers used these materials when making them. Plus though the numbers were faked does not imply with certainty that the steel (or copper) was indeed defective (since it was not actually tested).

So now the major question is how to tackle this complex issue? Would it be prudent to find out and replace all steel or copper components that had these grades of metal supplied by Kobe? How does one decide?


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