They say that you are what you eat. If so, it means that many people in the UK are rather more horse than they thought. Endless jokes about, “why such a long face?” aside, this really shouldn’t have been a surprise. For years now, there has been food on sale in the UK simply described as, “meat”, such as meat pies, meat sausages etc. When someone asked about what the meat actually was, DNA testing was done. A variety of different animal contributions were found, including a significant amount of content which could not even be identified….. The real anger has rather been more down to the fact that horse meat was found in products labelled for example, as beef. The UK shop-going public hates to pay premium prices for what is a cheap alternative.
This issue illustrates that something that is relatively stable can quickly “blow up” into an issue as the unknown becomes exposed. Electronics manufacturing faces the same issues. We see presentations at trade shows that focus on the ever increasing problems of counterfeit materials. These can be reclaimed, salvaged, second use materials, even some which may have had leads replaced or tinned to disguise the lead content, as well as just low quality copies.
With the horse meat “scandal”, there was another sting in the tail. Horses apparently can be treated with drugs which are potentially harmful to humans. Straight-up horse meat in the food chain is free from these chemicals, but no-one can be sure about the illicit meat. Low cost electronic components may work perfectly well in low cost devices or products designed to be built using such components, but how about the safety systems in your car or medical equipment. How about the life and quality of your premium branded products, even the lower cost models? Can the risk be taken?
Many years ago, production operations had the scope to do random material testing, going into quite some detail as to the content and reliability of even passive components. Today, few operations are doing this, having put their trust into the supplier relationships. As times get hard, relationships strain, local alternatives are found, the testing process may not be replaced.
Material traceability is therefore of critical importance for production. It is the ability to link a materials related quality issue, whether discovered during the production operation or whether found as a defect in the field, back to a specific supplier, vendor and batch of components. It is the ability to immediately identify the scope and likely effect, in a business sense, of any extraordinary materials being used. Just the knowledge that material traceability is being used effectively, such as with the Valor MSS Materials solution, can be enough to prevent unscrupulous suppliers trying to get away with the supply of less than optimum materials.
It is therefore a surprise to hear from machine vendors who tell us about the buying patterns of companies buying new machines. The answer to the question of whether they would like verification or traceability is usually a “neigh”. Perhaps the food is getting to them…….