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Japan's Kobe Steel under fire for fudging data on metals

Published:Thursday | October 12, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Kobe Steel Group's logo is seen in Tokyo Wednesday, October 11, 2017. (AP)

The Japanese government urged steelmaker Kobe Steel on Wednesday to clarify the extent of manipulation of inspection data on steel, aluminium and other metals used in a wide range of products, reportedly including rockets, aircraft and cars, in the latest quality scandal to rock Japanese manufacturing.

Kobe Steel, Japan's third-largest steel maker, has announced that between September 1, 2016 and August 31 of this year, it sold aluminium and copper materials using falsified data on such things as the products' strength.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami told reporters that the government was seeking more information about the problem and trying to determine its possible impact on product safety. He criticised the apparently widespread falsification of data as "inappropriate."

About 200 of Kobe Steel's customers, including some makers of defence equipment, were affected, Nogami said. He would not identify the companies by name but several automakers on Wednesday said they have been made aware of the problem and are investigating.

"We have confirmed that aluminium from Kobe Steel is used in the hoods and doors of some of our vehicles," Nissan said in an email. "As hoods are related to pedestrian safety, we are working to quickly assess any potential impact on vehicle functionality."

Toyota also confirmed that the material has been used in hoods and rear doors of some of its vehicles.

"Putting the utmost priority on the safety of our customers, we are rapidly working to identify which vehicle models might be subject to this situation and what components were used, as well as what effect there might be on individual vehicles," Toyota said in a statement. "At the same time, we are considering what measures need to be put in place going forward."

Aircraft maker Boeing said it, too, is looking into the problem.

"Boeing has been working closely and continuously with our suppliers since being notified of the issue, to ensure timely and appropriate action, including comprehensive inspections and analysis throughout our supply chain," the company said in an email.

"Nothing in our review to date leads us to conclude that this issue presents a safety concern, and we will continue to work diligently with our suppliers to complete our investigation."

Kobe Steel said in a release that the materials included aluminium flat-rolled products, aluminium extrusions, copper strips, copper tubes, and aluminium castings and forgings.

It was unclear if the total of 40,900 tons of products involved included shipments to other countries.

"Data in inspection certificates had been improperly rewritten etc, and the products were shipped as having met the specifications concerned," the company said, describing the actions as "improper conduct."

The problem was discovered during internal inspections and "emergency quality audits", it said.

Kobe Steel said it was contacting its customers and working to verify the safety of the products it supplied and has set up a committee headed by its president to investigate quality issues and hired an outside law firm to conduct a probe into the misconduct.

- AP