Positive Material Identification Analyzers Can Save You Millions

We often talk about ‘trust but verify’ the materials you get from your suppliers. We don’t say this lightly as we regularly talk to customers who regret not taking this action early enough, when something goes wrong. However, a simple purchase of a PMI (positive material identification) analyzer for quality assurance during incoming inspection could save you thousands, if not millions.

The latest example: NASA

In February 2009, NASA’s Taurus XL rocket (T8), carrying a satellite intended for climate research, failed to reach orbit. As a result, the rocket re-entered the earth’s atmosphere where it disintegrated and burnt up. Any surviving pieces of the rocket and satellite dispersed in the Pacific Ocean. The mission was a complete failure. Taurus T8 failed to reach orbit because it was too heavy. This was because the payload fairing failed to separate during the ascent.

In March 2011, exactly the same thing happened to Taurus T9. The total cost of the two failed missions was at least $700 million and years of research.

The findings of the subsequent investigation by the LSP (NASA Launch Services Program) has now been published. The cause of both failures has been pin-pointed to a failure of exactly the same part; sub-standard material properties of the aluminium used in manufacturing both times.

To get to this point, the investigators lifted the lid on a widespread and systematic falsifying of material specifications. There were two main issues: one that a supplier knowingly changed the aluminium verification test results from fail to pass. And second, the supplier didn’t carry out quality testing to the right level. NASA also didn’t undertake their own incoming inspection.

Jim Norman, director of the Launch Services at NASA made the following statement:

“When testing results are altered and certifications are provided falsely, missions fail. The Taurus XLs that failed for the OCO and Glory missions resulted in the loss of more than $700 million, and years of people’s scientific work.”

Trust no-one

In the NASA case, the sub-standard aluminium spec was not a one-off or a simple mistake. The supplier has been alleged (and has acknowledged) to have been altering material test results as a matter of routine: 2,000 test results affecting over 200 customers over a period of nineteen years.

The $700 million loss to NASA was due to the failure of only two components. The overall cost of nearly 20 years of falsifying results is unknown.

We’ve spoken before about the need for 100% PMI testing and why to trust but verify your incoming goods.

For most of us, if a product we’ve manufactured fails in the field, we’re held responsible. It’s our profits that are lost and our reputation that’s damaged. It’s never been more important for manufacturers to take responsibility for their own materials specification verification. As we’ve said for a long time and will continue to do so, trust but verify.

Thankfully technology is on our side and it’s now easy and relatively inexpensive to bring materials testing in-house; this is how you avoid this happening to you.

Handheld and mobile analyzers for in-house testing

The range of handheld and mobile analyzers by Hitachi High-Tech are easy to use, give you results immediately and are genuinely portable.

You have a choice of analyzing technologies, depending on what you need. The Vulcan handheld LIBS analyzer can verify alloys in one second and the X-MET8000 range of XRF analyzers can detect almost any material and is completely non-destructive. The Mobile OES PMI-Master series allows you to reliably detect trace elements like carbon, boron or sulfur in steel or nitrogen in duplex steel.

In a world where manufacturers have no choice but to take responsibility for their own materials verification, the investment of $25,000 or so in a high-spec analyzer seems very little when compared with the potential cost and reputational damage of in-the-field failure.

We’re here to help

We’re always here to help you. Find out more about Hitachi’s range of analyzers designed for 100% PMI or contact us for a quote today.

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Date: 6 June 2019

Author: Wilhelm Sanders, Product manager OES

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