3 Pillars of Quality Assurance: Part 2 – Vendor Audits
Experts in the electric utility industry have noticed a trend over the last decade: a steady increase in the number of catastrophic steel pole failures. These failures are typically the result of manufacturing defects, and these defects do not occur randomly or without a traceable cause. Exo has investigated many of these failures and we have come to find that there are several key trends that are contributing to the problem.
First, design changes intended to save money through efficiency now result in less resilient structures with lower safety factors. Second, the steel we use in our poles and towers has different mechanical properties compared to raw materials used in the past, mostly an increased amount of recycled material. This makes it more difficult to weld critical joints on the structure.
And finally, changes in workforce and turnover have impacted the overall experience level of our manufacturing footprint as an industry. As tribal knowledge and experience is lost through retirement or rapid expansion, the risk of poor quality and fabrication issues has increased.
If you plan to incorporate steel poles and towers into future projects, these trends should give cause for alarm. The good news is that there are certain steps that utilities can take to mitigate these risks. Strong quality assurance methods, including vendor audits, can help asset owners ensure the structural integrity of their structures.
Quality Assurance: Vendor Audits
As mentioned in our first piece about codes, standards, and specifications, every project must start with a solid foundation. But simply having the right recipe alone does not ensure a steel pole or tower will be free from quality issues when it leaves the shop. Executing those standards and specifications on the factory floor is equally as important. And unfortunately, we have seen a major disconnect between what is called out in documentation and the product that is actually being fabricated. There are many reasons for this disconnect but the end result is always the same: quality defects that escape the plant which have the potential of causing structural failures in steel poles and towers down the road.
This is why vendor audits are such an essential element to a utility quality assurance program. They help verify that a vendor’s quality practices align with yours as well as industry standards, both in written documentation and, in our opinion more importantly, their execution on the shop floor. They provide true insight into the quality practices of an organization. They offer additional data points for supply chain professionals when choosing their partners. And they can often uncover certain risky behavior with current partners that warrants corrective action.
As previously mentioned, many structure failures can be traced back to issues in fabrication. In the case of steel poles, welding defects such as post galvanizing toe cracks have led to many recent failures, of which most could have been avoided by following certain best practices. This leads us to the all-important question, how confident are you that your key vendors are committed to quality in the same manner you are?
Vendor audits offer you the assurance that you have the right group for your project, regardless of past performance, size, or reputation alone. At Exo, we constantly preach the mantra of “Trust but Verify”, and audits should be the primary tool to accomplish this objective.
Trust the Exo Difference
Though incidents of structure failure have increased, it isn’t inevitable. Quality assurance services are the only option for comprehensive project monitoring that can help you rest easily knowing all best practices are being followed.
With services like Exo’s Ex-Tend asset management program, we protect the full lifecycle of your assets, and it all starts with robust quality assurance.
Whether it is full lifecycle management, field service and repair, or vendor audits and surveillance, Exo is uniquely prepared to serve your company’s needs and continue providing the asset management services vital to all of your operations.
At Exo, we don’t wait for problems to arise before we take action. We give you the power to be proactive. Phone us at 281-259-7000 or contact us online for a free consultation to see how Exo can protect your assets.