Bad Titanium Parts Impact Military Aircraft Supply Chain

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It’s interesting that supply chain scandals tend to only make the headlines when they involve consumer goods, such as Thomas the Train engines or Mattel toys. But when they involve titanium products for critical parts such as engine mounts found on active duty F-22s, F-15s and C-17s, Navy F-18s, and NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, they don’t make a single mainstream news outlet! Last week, American Metal Market published a follow-up story regarding a titanium scandal at Western Titanium Inc, a supplier of parts to Boeing, The Air Force, and other government contractors according to the Military Times. Four Western Titanium executives face up to 64 counts of fraud and conspiracy for falsifying supplier quality test certifications. The trial of these executives faces delay, according to American Metal Market [subscription required].

According to another website reporting on the case,  “The prosecutors say Western made short cuts to its process, by using a press to squash the metal and cut it down to a rolled thickness. For aircraft-grade titanium, the ore should be heated and fed through giant steel rollers to result in directional strength. Other reports suggest the material went through a forging vs. a roll plate process. The shorter process resulted in weaker titanium than what is required for F-15 engine mounts, according to The Air Force.  The Defense Department had initiated an investigation after a Boeing supplier quality audit.

We received the following comment from Greg Chase, President of Windsor, Connecticut based Aerodyne Alloys commenting about the scandal, “The recent indictment of four executives from Western Titanium for allegedly fraudulently selling substandard titanium is a real tragedy for the industry. Over the years there have been isolated cases of tampering with certifications or misrepresenting materials, usually by fly by night operations. But in this case, it was clearly a systematic practice the company had in place for years. Competitors like ourselves have long cautioned customers that not all suppliers are created equal and have refused to follow the lead of companies that compromise quality.  It’s important to be competitive but competition should never be an excuse for cutting corners and putting lives in jeopardy. Buyers that turned a blind eye to the practice may be as guilty as Western, if the allegations are true. Supporting a company that sells product well below market price and has questionable business practices is playing with fire.

The case raises some interesting questions. For example, did the customers, in this case Boeing and Lockheed Martin, among other government contractors, identify the quality issues or did it take the Department of Defense to first identify the problem? We’re not experts in aerospace QA approval processes, however, we’d expect that critical components such as these would have undergone ultrasonic testing or some other rigorous quality test. The other minor detail we should add involves the number of parts in question (7900), according to the Military Times. It’s hard to conceive of that many parts going through the system without some red flag.

What do you think?

–Lisa Reisman

Comments (17)

  1. Nancy Luque says:

    As counsel for Western Titanium I would have appreciated the opportunity to respond to the numerous innacurate statements within your article, an opportunity that you unfairly gave to one of our competitors but not to us when you wrote it. Further, it would have been prudent to make sure your readers knew these are mere allegations rather than reporting them as though they are facts–which they clearly are not. While listing all of the actual errors in the article would take more space than is allotted here, suffice to say that Western: 1.) does not supply parts to anyone; it sells titanium to those who make parts and 2.) did not ‘falsify’ any of the numerous test reports prepared by independant labs in connection with the sales of titanium mentioned in the indictment. Your erroneous reporting should given you an appreciation for the the difference between “falsification” and error.

    As for Mr. Chase, he’ll be hearing from me directly concerning his defamatory and self serving remarks.

  2. admin says:

    Nancy, Thank you for your comments and we’d be more than happy to publish your comments or a letter if you prefer. We were merely reporting comments which have been published elsewhere, in particular, the Military Times, American Metal Market and MetalWorker.com. It’s true to say that these are allegations and until the trial takes place, no facts can be proved one way or the other.

    Maybe on reflection we should have said Western Titanium was part of the supply chain to Boeing and not a direct supplier.

    If you would like to write a letter or a post explaining Western Titanium’s position, we’d be delighted to post it on the site as a standard post like this first one. LAR

  3. I would like to express my opinion. I am so sick of reading the following. Western made short cuts to its process, by using a press to squash the metal and cut it down to a rolled thickness. First of all, we don’t squish titanium we forge titanium. Forgings have been used in the titanium Industry for over 30 years. Forging material and cutting parts out of forgings is a common practice by Mills and all Titanium distributors. Question ? Why isn’t the government indicting the mills and the other distributors who have and still use this time honored process of forging titanium. Everyone I repeat everyone knows that forging produces a stronger and more durable product. You give me an 8” rolled plate and an 8” forging and the plate will not even come close to the tensile strength of a forging. Forgings were , are , and will always be stronger than rolled plate. Forged titanium has been used in commercial aerospace and military applications for decades. Parts made from forgings have been time tested in the Vietnam war, the Gulf war, Iraq war , Afghan war and Commercial airlines and have passed with flying colors. Rockets aren’t exploding, planes are not falling from the sky, satellites are not falling from the sky, Forgings are stronger than rolled products. This prosecutor is absolutely wrong. Everyone in the titanium industry knows that Western was thrown under the bus. This prosecutor is no longer attacking Western Titanium she is attacking the entire Titanium Industry and I for one am sick of the lies. I would also like to add to Nancy Luque comments concerning Greg Chase. Not only were his comments self-serving they were despicable. If Western Titanium an ISO approved Gold Star distributor is found guilty for providing forgings then the entire Industry needs to be shut down. I have seen the certifications of every mill and distributor in the United States. Western Titaniums material certifications were impeccable. Lisa you ask a question and I will answer with another question. You asked about the 7900 potential non-conforming forged aircraft parts. Throw that number out. If the crazy prosecutor is correct, what are we going to do about the 50 million military and commercial parts that have been made out of forgings for the last 30 years! Of course all of this is just my opinion…what do I know compared to a government official. I’ve just worked in the Titanium Industry for 2 decades.

  4. admin says:

    Harvey, Thanks for your comments. Look, I lifted a comment from another blog site with full attribution. I should have used the word “forgings” and not “squished parts”. My apologies if that comment is offensive. I have no issue with forgings mind you.

    But nobody is arguing that aerospace parts should not be forged.

    So let’s address the specific issues:

    1. Let’s say forgings are stronger than rolled plate like you said. Fine. No problem there. But what did your customer’s specifications call for? If they didn’t specifically call out “rolled plate” then presumably forged should be acceptable and I’m sure the courts will find in your favor.
    2. But, if a Boeing or Lockheed Martin or whomever your customer was requested rolled plate in their PO- with certs to that effect, but you supplied forged without an appropriate approval from your customer, then certainly, that would be a problem.
    3. Please clarify for us for what purpose would our government go after your firm if not for the fact that a Boeing QA process revealed something was not produced as strictly specified? Why would your firm be “thrown under the bus” as you state? I’ve seen our government do crazier things. If we’ve missed the “real story here”, then please help us set the record straight.
    4. Should our readers interpret your comments as suggesting that forged parts are commonly supplied as a substitute for rolled plate by the industry? Are you suggesting that’s what all companies do – sell forged vs. rolled? Maybe they do, I don’t really know. But the point here is what did the specification and the purchase order call for?

    –LAR

  5. Nancy Luque says:

    Your response to the blogger seems to indicate you believe him to be employed by, or speaking for, Western Titanium. I can assure you that he is/does not, although we can certainly agree with some of his remarks .

    You also don’t seem to understand that every piece of titanium sold by Western was independantly tested and found to meet specification. I do think it might be useful to set the record straight here and will give it some thought.

  6. admin says:

    Thank you for your clarification on Harvey’s comment.

    You are right, we don’t understand that every piece of titanium sold by Western was independently tested and found to meet specification. I don’t believe that information has been released to the public.

    Which testing organization has independently verified the material?

    Did that independent test data verify that it is rolled plate as the standard calls for? My understanding is that the customer speck requires MIL T 9046.

    And please, do set the record straight. We’d be pleased to publish your thoughts.
    LAR

  7. G Shawley says:

    Lisa, There is public interest on this issue. Please continue to report the facts in this ongoing case.

    1. admin says:

      Please see http://www.spendmatters.com for a follow-up post on this Titanium story. It will appear sometime late next week. Thank you!

  8. Jason Busch says:

    Shocking how lawyers are skilled only in rhetoric only insofar as it supports their case. Where’s the response? What’s the testing record? I’d like to see it. The noise, then silence upon further questioning, suggests something is not entirely right here.

  9. Nancy Luque says:

    We have supplied a lengthy statement for our customers which I will try to send to you. Your readers need to understand that while Western has been tried (and convicted) in the press, they pay me to handle matters in court, not the press. But no one should mistake my “rhetoric” for “spin” or as devoid of fact. Western is a distributor which NEVER bought substandard titanium let alone resold any, and there are no false documents. Our customers have our documentation of independant testing by independant labs of every piece of titanium sold. Can you please make sure that whoever writes of this next at least talks to me?

    1. admin says:

      Nancy, Thank you for your comment and the statement. And yes, we promise to talk to you before we publish anything!

  10. Dustin Lobner says:

    I am a metallurgist working in the aerospace industry as a design support engineer…that is, I tell people what to make things out of. All I can say is, if the allegations are actually true, this is a pretty horrible thing.

    To comment to the “forgings are just as strong/stronger than rolled”, that’s not always true. Forgings can be screwed up in a multitude of ways that rolling cannot. Furthermore, the form of the material affects how further heat treatment down the road affects the metal. Sure, raw forgings may be stronger, but what about after heat treatment? Heat treatment is an incredibly variable process which outputs vary based on the input. So what if it was stronger after forging versus rolled? Doesn’t mean it’s going to be stronger in the end product.

    As a design engineer, I find this whole idea appauling. When I specify a material, I specify it for a whole host of properties outside of strength: yield strength, elongation, resistance to general corrosion, resistance to stress corrosion cracking, fatigue life, weldabilty, machinability, residual stress levels, etc. Unless you can show me that the forged material is better in ALL of those aspects, then the material is inferior to my needs, end of statement.

    It has been said that all material passed spec testing. Again, before or after heat treat? What spec (forging or rolled)? Were mechanicals the only things tested? If so, the material didn’t meet spec (if the forging vs rolled accusation is true) because the specification SPECIFIES THE FORM (rolled, forged, extruded, etc). If they asked for rolled and got forged, regardless of mechancial properties it didn’t meet spec.

  11. Dirk Blansden says:

    Interesting, I am aware of defective parts on the 787 Boeing builds and it is knowingly suppressing info to have it come to light. THey started out with 5553 titanium. Converted to 6al4v ti – parts when they found out there we large grain structures in the 5553. You did not even need a microscope to see the bad grain. They quickly converted to 6al4v. But did not replace all suspect parts in the planes. Also the open die process that produced the bad 5553 is producing the 6al4v material. So was it the material or the the forging process that produced the bad grain structure?? Well we will never know because boeing purposely elected not to have the material tested for fear of finding the same thing….. Have fun flying on your 787. I wont be on one.

  12. Lisa Hill says:

    I used to know Dan Schroeder CEO very well and was engaged to him back in the early 1990’s when he was just starting Western Titanium. Although I have not seen or spoken with him since 1999 (before I moved away from California) I can attest to the fact that based upon what I used to know about Dan – HE WOULD NEVER, EVER do what he has been accused of doing. EVER. The Dan I used to know dedicated his whole being to make Western Titanium a huge success and would never jeopardize the same. I hope and pray you are doing okay, Dan and my prayers are with you.
    Lisa Hill

  13. The cutting of so called “corners’ in the supply of forgings or forged components is a general practice amongst suppliers of general engineering steels affecting the performance of these metals. The problem is that when a requirement is originally investigated and an offer submitted for the supply of such components the grainflow of the components are seldomly detailed as a critical acceptance criteria in the quality standard. Which means that the general acceptance standards as, chemical analysis, ultrasonic standards, and other NDT tests, as well as Mechanical requirements normally form part of such an spesification, and are in some cases well within the capability of the specified material grade, although not having the grain flow charactaristics of directional forging.  

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