Friday, March 28, 2008

Chinese engineering gone wrong...

A while back, everyone got all in a huff about lead and drug-laced Chinese-made toys. Everyone wondered what the hell was going on in China. And then of course, everyone forgot about it and moved on...

I just wanted to take a minute to share a few stories that have been forwarded to me over the past few months. I work in heavy industry, so equipment has to be of the highest quality. When it isn't, shit blows up and people die. Here are two stories of why the only thing made in China on some of the jobs I work on are the workers' underwear.

This photo is from a pressurized steam line in a powerplant. Most heavy duty seamless piping is made in a handful of mills in Japan (largest source), South Korea, and the United States. The pipe had documentation that said it was made in the USA. After it was installed and the plant was in operation, the pipe blew up killing 2 workers and injuring many others.

Insufficient weld penetration along the seam of the seamless pipe was the cause. Upon investigation, the pipe was made in China while the documentation was forged. Several important tests were either ignored or forged by unscrupulous brokers. Last I heard, the Chinese government was still trying to hunt down the last of the brokers.

The next story comes from a pressure vessel explosion. Pressure vessels are important pieces of equipment in many industrial processes. From boilers for heating, to cracking vessels, to separator vessels, making a large steel jar that can hold in all the pressure is extremely important.

Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, boiler explosions were common. Gradually, engineers learned their lesson and now all pressure vessels are manufactured to a common code put out by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). ASME Boiler Code spells out ever little detail. It's thicker than a stack of Bibles. I wouldn't be surprised if the proper procedure to break wind around the vessel spelled out.

This is one vessel that failed in spectacular fashion. Nobody was injured (they were testing the vessel before shipment). Instead of bending, the steel just snapped with a ragged edge. That's a BAD sign. Steel is supposed to fail in a ductile (bending) fashion, not brittle failure (just snapping with no warning). No material testing (Charpy, etc.) was done on the steel during manufacturer. ASME boiler code wasn't consulted during the manufacture of this vessel. The foreman and his workers just built the vessel off the top of their head.

This is stuff that's almost unheard of since the 1930's. These are just 2 samples of failures I've gotten in my inbox in my time as an engineer.

Disturbing stuff from the country that's supposed to be "the next hyperpower." I think China has a lot of potential, but count me underwhelmed.

NOTE- Edits for grammar and clarity.


Ashley said...

I'm sure their nuclear weapons have the finest craftsmanship. Shit that they sell to stoopid capitalists can be shit, just as long as it's a low bid.

Clay said...

The pipe was meant for the Chinese market, not for export. It's one thing to royally fuck up toys. Heavy equipment is another thing entirely.

Might have sounded a bit Sinophobic with the crack about the underwear, but that wasn't my intention.

And I have no doubts about their nukes.

Anonymous said...

"Insufficient weld penetration along the seam of the seamless pipe was the cause." - don't want to be pedantic, but a seamless pipe has no seam and therefore no weld. By the looks of the regularity of that rupture it was indeed a seam failure. Not only will they forge the source of the pipe, they'll even sell a welded pipe as seamless - frightening is that by my experience no-one will notice or care.
They're making awe-inspiring progress, no doubt about it, but "underwhelmed" has very often been my feeling too.

Clay said...

That's exactly what it was: seam pipe sold as seamless. They grinded the seam down to conceal the seam.