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?