Manufacturing Self-Defense 101: Protecting Your Supply Chain 


Do you know how to defend yourself and your business against the dangers of using non-conforming materials? In this video on positive material identification for metals, we’ll teach you how to neutralize threats to your critical material supply chain. 


Ten Hut! Today, we are going to cover 2 topics. First, why you need to work with a manufacturer that performs PMI. And second, we’ll show you some of the machines used to perform such a task. 


This is your senior drill instructor, Sargent Major Gordon Styles. I’m also the founder and CEO of Star Rapid. Join me this week as we teach you product engineers out there, and the companies you represent, how to practice basic supply chain self-defense. Are you ready to learn the four lessons you need to know about Positive Material Identification? I can’t heeaar yoouuu! That’s more like it. If so, it’s time once again for Serious Engineering for serious engineers! 


Before we start, be sure to check out Part One on testing for plastics if you haven’t already done so. You’ll learn a lot about the science and technology that go into positive material identification. 


OK, time’s up. Let’s lock and load. 


First order of business. Why do you need to work with a manufacturing partner that performs PMI, and what are they testing for? There are four reasons. Learn them fast and learn them well!” 


Number one 


There are hundreds of unique metal alloys on the market, with only slight differences between them. Nevertheless, even small differences can have a big effect on how a metal is processed and how it performs.  

Lesson: Always verify your material against a reference standard using scientific instrumentation, and then calibrate your CNC machine speeds and feeds according to that exact material. 


Number two 


Hot rolling, cold rolling, drop forging, oil quenching, shot peening: all these treatments – and more – affect the metallurgical properties, even if the internal make-up is the same.  


Lesson. Use PMI, including hardness testing, to verify how your metal was post-treated. 


Number three  


The chain-of-custody, or COC, can be complex, as materials pass through many hands – from the raw ore ripped out of the guts of the Earth all the way to the heavy metal slabs lying in a warehouse. Beware! Unscrupulous dealers may try to pass along the wrong material and make you pay for it.   


Lesson: I pity the fool who only believes what the paper trail says. Verify with PMI. Oh, I like the sound of that. ‘Verify with PMI.’ I’m keeping that one. 


Number four 


Using non-conforming material, even unknowingly, can put lives at risk and jeopardize large, complex construction projects. It can also involve you and your company in serious criminal penalties.  


Lesson: You are ultimately responsible for protecting your business and your reputation. Insist on working only with qualified supply chains. If they can’t prove it, it’s time to move it!  


To purge non-conforming metals from your supply chain, we need some powerful weapons. First up, the Hitachi X-MET8000. This little beauty is military-spec tough, so we use it in the lab and the field. It’s our daily go-to for quick, reliable XRF analysis of metal stock. Let’s blast a few samples and make ’em talk. 


You got that?  Didn’t even leave a scratch. The XRF gun can be used to test for banned substances like cadmium, lead or mercury. But XRF guns like this have a limited range. That’s why we need to program it in advance and tell it what type of material we’re testing for. That way, it can give a more accurate reading within that range. 


To test the different levels of carbon content in steel, we need a bigger gun.” 


Say hello to my little friend. This here is the Oxford Instruments Optical Emissions Spectrometer. You want firepower? This baby uses a powerful electric spark to vaporize the metal and force it to give off a spectral signature, which is unique for every element. 


The resulting spectra passes through a gradient filter where it’s analyzed and compared to an onboard database. The OES tells you the relative concentration of the elements in your sample, and that’s important for determining the grade of stainless steel that you’re working with.  


And why is that important? Because the carbon content determines how corrosion-resistant your alloy is, whether it’s free-machining, if it can be welded or even metal 3D printed.”  


As you can see, the OES does leave a scorch mark, what we call a spark site, on the test sample, so we use it to test raw stock or an inconspicuous area of a finished part.” 


OK you slugs, there you have it – positive material testing for metals. Have you learned your lesson? Don’t cut corners, don’t take chances, don’t trust the paper trail. Only work with suppliers that can guarantee 100% PMI for all raw materials they use to make your parts and tools. 


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