What Hydrogen in Steel Bolts Has to Do With Supplier Relationships

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Continued from Part One.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Toll Bridge Program Manager Tony Anziano said engineers are ‘pretty confident’ the problem with the bolts is not a design issue or a construction problem but related to the quality of the steel bolts themselves.

“This isn’t exotic – this isn’t some wild issue,” Anziano is quoted as saying.

Yeah, well, it may not be ‘wild,’ but if a part is defective, it’s certainly not nothing. The incidence of hydrogen in the steel bolts themselves, making them more brittle, is disconcerting at the very least, and potentially dangerous.

The Sacramento Bee reports that “officials said it was too soon to know the cost of repairs, to identify where quality control failed, or to place blame, but they attributed the problem to apparently defective steel contaminated by hydrogen during manufacturing. ‘Hydrogen embrittlement’ can cause steel to crack or break.”

Case Western Reserve University Professor Arthur Hucklebridge, an expert on seismic issues in bridge construction, is quoted by the Bee as saying the problem is “‘extremely unusual’ – more so because the bolts snapped after, rather than during, stressing.”

If anything, this situation goes back to knowing how to manage those supplier relationships. Knowing which supplier is responsible for the metal parts is the first step. (And contrary to what Caltrans has told the SacBee, the consensus here in the MetalMiner offices is that they likely know exactly which supplier is responsible and are scrambling, Boeing-style, to rectify the situation.)

A potential upside? Calling up your US-based supplier to rectify and issue like this must be preferable to communicating with a China-based team, say, for a number of obvious – and perhaps not-so-obvious – reasons.

But that doesn’t overshadow the fact that with many a Buy America provision being overlooked or just plain disregarded in the sourcing of the project (not to mention the terrible cost overruns reaching into the billions over the years), the Bay Bridge endeavor has long since turned into somewhat of a debacle.

Can its legacy ever be untainted?

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