Kobe Steel quality scandal spreads to bullet trains

Oct 12, 2017

Passenger safety not affected, railway operator says

Japanese high-speed trains

The Kobe Steel data cheating scandal widened Wednesday as the operator of Japan's busiest bullet train line said train components made from the steelmaker's materials fell short of industry standards.

Certain aluminum parts in N700A rolling stock have tensile strength below Japanese Industrial Standards specifications, JR Tokai President Koei Tsuge told reporters.

But "there is no impact on travel safety," said Tsuge, who stressed that the parts are confirmed as far stronger than the load pressures they actually bear.

JR Tokai reviewed five years of Kobe Steel data. Affected parts span two categories and 310 components. The trains travel on the Tokaido Shinkansen line connecting Tokyo and Osaka.

The railway operator plans to replace suspect components as soon as possible during regular inspections, conducted roughly once a year, and on other occasions. Tsuge declined to comment on who will bear replacement costs. He said the company is investigating other components using aluminum material supplied by Kobe Steel.

JR Tokai does not put the JIS mark on the components, so there is no need for certification. But the company bases procurement of Kobe Steel parts on quality equivalent to JIS standards, Tsuge said.

Yoshihiko Katsukawa, a managing executive officer at Kobe Steel, declined to comment on the matter, saying the company was unaware of the details of JR Tokai's announcement.


Tsuge described Kobe Steel's revelations of falsifying data as "extremely regrettable." But this was not the first time.

In 2016, it came to light that a group company had falsified test data on tensile strength for stainless steel wire used in springs. The Japanese Industrial Standards Committee made Kobe Steel remove the JIS mark from the wire.

Just this Wednesday, Kobe Steel said its Takasago works changed density data for a type of iron powder before shipping it. Iron powder is used widely in manufacturing intricately shaped automotive and other components.

Kobe Steel also said its Kobelco Research Institute failed to test or tampered with test data for target materials, which are used to form thin coatings of film for applications such as DVDs.

These came on top of Kobe Steel's revelations Sunday that it falsified quality data for aluminum and copper materials.

Chairman and President Hiroya Kawasaki used to speak with pride of having "the only company in the world" to run parallel steel and aluminum businesses. But critics point to a lack of internal communication stemming from this diversified business structure. The group's seven core segments are highly differentiated from one another, with little collaboration.

"Management and headquarters aren't able to completely control the operational segments," an industry insider said.

Kobe Steel's aluminum and copper segment produces a wide range of products that demand a high level of specialized knowledge from its workers, some of whom have reportedly spent their entire careers in the same workplace. When it comes to breaking the rules, "there may have been a tacit understanding [between superiors and subordinates] that they could go so far without getting in trouble," Executive Vice President Naoto Umehara said in Sunday's news conference.


Source: Nikkei Asian Review

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