Time to start test­ing safety-crit­i­cal im­ported prod­ucts?

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - POINT OF VIEW - Paul Ad­lam Screw Pro­duc­tions Ro­torua

Do we need some­one to take on the man­tle of ‘watch­dog’ for the qual­ity that sur­rounds im­ported prod­uct? Gov­ern­ment is al­ways be­ing asked to set up bod­ies for all sorts of things, and per­haps this is another area that they should be in­volved with.

Im­port­ing of fas­ten­ings is now so easy, and many of us in the in­dus­try are in­volved in it. Send­ing a sam­ple of a prod­uct to China to ob­tain sup­ply of fas­ten­ers, usu­ally to ob­tain a bet­ter price, is easy.

But an in­ex­pe­ri­enced per­son may re­ceive a prod­uct that looks fit for pur­pose, but may in fact be of sub­stan­tially lower or even dan­ger­ous qual­ity. So we do need to be care­ful to un­der­stand and con­vey all the stan­dards re­quired of the prod­uct to sup­pli­ers, and have a way of check­ing that those stan­dards have been met on re­ceipt.

All types of fas­ten­ings can po­ten­tially be life-threat­en­ing in cer­tain ar­eas, if they do not meet the ap­pro­pri­ate stan­dards. There are still is­sues with prod­uct from Asian coun­tries meet­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate stan­dards and im­ported prod­uct should not be taken for granted as be­ing ac­cept­able. Trace­abil­ity is be­com­ing a prob­lem as a num­ber of im­porters use trad­ing houses, and trac­ing who the man­u­fac­turer is may not be easy.

And do for­eign sup­pli­ers care any­way? Try­ing to pass on a li­a­bil­ity claim to an Asian man­u­fac­turer, if you can find them, is almost im­pos­si­ble.

Some time ago we were asked to de­ter­mine why some 12 gauge screws were fail­ing. The heads were break­ing off dur­ing in­stal­la­tion. We were able to pro­vide the test re­sults they needed to deal with the Chi­nese man­u­fac­turer and solve their prob­lem. Th­ese po­ten­tially could have cre­ated a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion had they been used.

We have been in­volved from time to time in test­ing im­ported prod­uct for our cus­tomers and in each case we have come up with an­swers to prob­lems. As one of the re­main­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers in New Zealand we have the equip­ment and knowl­edge to test small fas­ten­ings, set down in the Bri­tish Stan­dards that we use, as it is nec­es­sary for us to be sure our prod­uct en­ters the mar­ket in a safe con­di­tion.

The re­duc­tion of man­u­fac­tur­ing ac­tiv­ity in New Zealand has meant that the “very spe­cial­ized test­ing of fas­ten­ings” (es­pe­cially nuts & bolts) has been lost. The cost of this spe­cial­ized test­ing equip­ment is high, but it does seem that some in­dus­try funded test­ing lab­o­ra­tory needs to be avail­able for im­porters.

I think I am cor­rect when I say this, that there would be no test­ing regime used by any com­pa­nies that im­port fas­ten­ings into New Zealand. In the past, New Zealand man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Ajax had a strict qual­ity con­trol depart­ment within their man­u­fac­tur­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion. I know that Asian sup­pli­ers of­ten quote their QA fa­cil­i­ties in sales lit­er­a­ture, but how good are they? They still seem to make se­ri­ous mis­takes.

In the 1980s the stan­dards for nuts, bolts, screws, wash­ers etc were laid down by The New Zealand Stan­dards As­so­ci­a­tion. In almost all cases they adopted the Bri­tish Stan­dards for fas­ten­ings as the New Zealand stan­dards. Now I am not sure if New Zealand Stan­dards As­so­ci­a­tion has the au­thor­ity to de­ter­mine what stan­dard should be adopted. If they do, would im­porters take any no­tice? All sorts of stan­dards are now quoted for dif­fer­ent fas­ten­ing prod­ucts in the New Zealand mar­ket.

Some years ago a bridge in South Carolina col­lapsed caus­ing sev­eral deaths. One of the fa­tal­i­ties was the brother of a con­gress­man. This con­gress­man set up a large en­quiry into the col­lapse and found that the bolts and nuts hold­ing this bridge to­gether were marked as be­ing a con­sid­er­ably higher qual­ity than they ac­tu­ally were. They had been de­lib­er­ately marked in­cor­rectly and were proven to be the ma­jor cause of this bridge col­lapse. This land­mark case brought about huge changes in the im­por­ta­tion of fas­ten­ers into the United States.

In the USA the FBI is ac­tive in the mon­i­tor­ing of im­porters/dis­trib­u­tors of fas­ten­ers. It ac­tu­ally con­duct sting op­er­a­tions, and has caught many peo­ple and com­pa­nies sell­ing coun­ter­feit bolts and fas­ten­ers. In the US the penal­ties for sell­ing fas­ten­ers that are la­belled a higher qual­ity than they re­ally are carry large fines, and in se­ri­ous cases, prison sen­tences.

In New Zealand the qual­ity of im­ported prod­uct could be a time bomb. Mil­lions of fas­ten­ers are im­ported by dis­trib­u­tors, and oth­ers, and most are re­spon­si­ble law abid­ing peo­ple who man­age their im­port­ing rea­son­ably well and have few is­sues. But can they be sure the prod­uct they im­port meets the stan­dard, which prob­a­bly should be the Bri­tish Stan­dard? Do they spec­ify the stan­dard their prod­ucts need to meet? Do they have test cer­tifi­cates they can rely on? At the end of the day they should be test­ing the prod­uct they im­port to safe­guard the users.

The fas­tener in­dus­try in New Zealand has a re­spon­si­bil­ity for han­dling all fas­ten­ing is­sues. This has been more so since the clo­sure of the Ajax plant some 25 years ago. So it has been a long time with no qual­ity fo­cus.

Dis­trib­u­tors of im­ported prod­uct should be look­ing at cre­at­ing in-house Qual­ity As­sur­ance lab­o­ra­to­ries and em­ploy­ing ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple to op­er­ate them, thereby giv­ing their cus­tomers peace of mind that they are us­ing safe prod­uct.

If they can­not af­ford to setup this kind of test­ing then they should find an or­gan­i­sa­tion that can do it for them.

I feel very strongly that there needs to be some con­trol on im­ported fas­ten­ings into this coun­try. It is such an im­por­tant prod­uct. How­ever, how this is achieved I am not sure, but if an in­dus­try group with some teeth could be es­tab­lished, then with con­sen­sus, is­sues sur­round­ing qual­ity could be ad­dressed, with gov­ern­ment giv­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion some au­thor­ity.

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