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December 2014 - January 2015 : Primes and subcontractors : Where they on equal terms ?

Written by Dubosc
Thursday, 20 November 2014 14:28

Formerly, a suspicion prevailed in the aerospace industry, which asserted that American primes demanded more from their European subcontractors than from their American ones. Even our British friends agreed that there was some truth in this sentence.

We were wrong when blaming only our American friends.

The following short story, absolutely true, occurred in Europe!

In 1972, a European prime, whose productivity performance was low at that time, subcontracted some parts to subcontractors far more efficient than its own production lines for the same parts, as per cost/quality/delivery time ratios.

A post-emulsifiable (PE) Level 3 (as per today's specs) fluorescent penetrant would have been the right choice for penetrant testing for the relevant parts.

Nevertheless, the prime required a PE Level 4 penetrant.

Obviously, this superfluous quality came at a price:

- More indications,

- Longer and more difficult interpretations,

- More reworks,

- More discarded parts.

The Control Manager of one of these European subcontractors did not understand why the prime was stubbornly requiring that a PE Level 4 be used.

Though without evidence, he suspected that the prime, in its own plants, used a less sensitive PE Level 3 penetrant to inspect exactly the same parts. Doing so, the prime made the subcontractor more expensive than he should have been, lowering the cost-gap between the primes' parts and the subcontractor's!

This Control Manager had some informal talks with his penetrant materials supplier and he got the information that this penetrant supplier was also supplying the prime!

As the prime had several penetrant lines with different sensitivities, the penetrant supplier made some investigations, and was told which penetrant was used for the parts the subcontractor was wondering about. It was really a PE Level 3 penetrant!

The penetrant supplier gave this information to the subcontractor.

Armed with this information, the Control Manager came back to his prime.

The prime disputed this information and lay down that the subcontractor had to use a PE Level 4 penetrant for the prime's parts inspection.

Thanks to huge productivity improvements, the subcontractor almost closed the cost-gap due to the "over quality" of the process.

Such methods would be unthinkable today. Unless...our readers provide us with some pieces of information on this topic.


In the '60s, a UK Company had a motto: ‘‘for every surface treatment problem, there is a product xxxxxx" (trademark we do not display).’’

Engineers and Commercial people in this Company had made a "translation": ‘‘with every surface treatment product xxxxxx (trademark we do not display), there is a problem.’’

This anecdote is there only to remind everyone that problems met in workshops may be due to the suppliers/manufacturers as well as to the users.

Our idea in these documents is NOT to target anyone, but on the contrary to bring to your knowledge some interesting cases which may prevent you to duplicate the same mistakes while performing Penetrant Testing (PT) or Magnetic Particle Testing (MT).

All the ministories you will read are TRUE. We think they will be helpful:

  • First as examples of specific technical - or non-technical - requirements or peculiar problems.
  • Second to let you see that the problems do not always come where you think they should come from.
  • Third so that users feel free to ask for help from people (the experts) who may know more than they do.

If you know of examples of some interest for others, please feel free to mail them to us. They will be displayed on our website as anonymously as those already published.

One's experience may help others. In addition, any interesting problem met during audits may also help: auditors, who sometimes face incredible situations and have hard times, as well as auditees may have very useful pieces of information.

We thank you in advance for any input.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 20 November 2014 14:42 )