Thursday, December 9, 2010

>:( Quality of Plastic

Quality of Plastic.

Being a designer, I choose materials for my designs (sometimes). Metals is a big market: Steels, Aluminum Alloys, Casting materials (steel, aluminum, plastics, resins, etc.). So many choices!

What is important in the choice? Performance quality, weight, processing costs, and of course the quality of the material.

In some designs, I have to choose an “exotic metal”. Because of the design demands, I need to know the Mechanical Properties. This lets me explore strength and durability issues. This data for the material is critical (space shuttle o-ring + management incompetence, etc.). The data specification I get from the manufacturer is key in helping me with the engineering of the component.

All of these materials come in different grades ( meaning how “close” it is to the original “recipe on the “box” ). Sometimes the component does not need a special material. These days, seems plastic is the way to go. The markets for plastics is equally humongous. Again, different grades of plastic( ie. Medical , Food, Performance, weight). Again, some components can use the cheapest plastics for most jobs.

When we get into the cheap plastic markets, there are questionable suppliers. Same with metal markets: questionable suppliers. Some suppliers are certified to deliver quality, some are not.

I had to design a large cast iron “machine base”. These are big ( over 2000KG ), and they have to be rigid and not deform. These castings had to be of a certain quality. This component was outsourced to China. When it returned, “fully finished”, it was installed and tested. It failed. It deformed or “stretched”. It now was a scrap part. Wasted energy.

Our company was interested in seeing why it did fail. With a “scope” we checked the cast material and found catastrophic structural issues. A welder “blasted through” the 3” steel for a “sample”. What did the team find? “Semi-Unmelted bolts” in the casting material. This made it deform. This supplier used cheap casting material, not what was specified on the engineering documentation. We had to make another, fast.

Of course, this was bad, since they usually take 1 month to make: pattern, casting, blocking, machining, finishing and CMM verification process and then quality assessments without overtime. And these things are heavy .

The point I am trying to make is that without proper standards and checking them, the customer is at a disadvantage. That cast material was not to standard. It failed. Being able to demonstrate quality is important in our increasingly complex manufacturing logistics. “Parts” from “all over the world” come “together” for a design. Having high initial quality makes it “easier to hit” projected budgets and profit margins. These are competitive bids, remember.

China has made many advancements since. I have seen the designs they are developing. Impressive. I still have some issues with some products from China. Plastic. What quality are we getting? Did you know that some manufacturers put lead in plastic ( PVC ) to make it more flexible? All flexible plastics from China can be trusted? You decide, because our government thinks that is not important.

Plastic is a messy material. It uses oil, it pollutes soils and water. But some plastics are high grade. At least you know what you are getting. Plastics are in everything. Some even have polymer coatings for finishes ( the stuff that wears off or scratches ). These plastics are well defined in countries with standards systems. They have to provide “scientific safety” of each material, its mechanical properties, etc. Some cases for legal support of a design. Other cases for health risks in dealing with that material.

Cheap plastics, like the ones used in: consumer products, tools, computers, etc , have grades as well. But, some have very little regulatory laws and reliable inspectors to ensure standards ( in China ).

You keep seeing warnings about plastics. When plastic first started flooding from China, I knew that if they could not maintain an “industry standard for engineering”, how would I know there is “no lead in the paint”. I used to joke to everyone that there is probably lead in it. Well, there is.

See with a “loose regulation” system, material manufacturers use fillers ( pet food, steel, paint and plastic, etc ) in their products. Saves them money. Just like the old “sawdust in hamburger” trick.

Did you know that the plastics in most hospital equipment is found to be “toxic”? Did you know that children “plastic playgrounds” plastic is found to be “toxic”? The more we understand about the impacts of “outside hormones” on our bodies, we are finding that they disrupt natural processes.

This year I have seen stories and reports on lead in many plastic items and non plastic items: christmas lights, toys, cheap food bowls, etc.

But these are the items people have complained about. What about all the “hidden” plastics in products? The ones inside? What is in them? Does our systems check? No.

So next time you look at "the label" can they prove it is correct? Check the quality stamp? Some are stamped green. How green is plastic?

CFL's have a green stamp. They contain mercury, electronics and plastic. New LED lights should make the CFL obsolete.

Sorry Walmart in China making billions of these things. I wonder how much mercury they "go through" in one day? Is the workers health protected by law?

Walmart will continue to produce CFL bulbs. They have to. They need to get economies of scale to get a profit from their captial investment. Do you trust Walmart in China?


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