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The quality and acceptability of imported materials such as steel and building products is again causing issues.
The chief executive of International Accreditation New Zealand, Dr Llew Richards, says one of the main drivers, as always, is price.
“If you are seeking low prices by sourcing from offshore make sure you understand the pitfalls and know how to guard against them. Bargain priced materials that cannot prove their quality may end up as so much scrap.
“The purchaser may consider their job well done when they find a very competitive price; however, that is only half the story. There should always be two considerations when purchasing anything – price and quality.  Price is easy to compare but quality is more complicated.  Quality is commonly defined as ‘fitness for purpose’.  The purpose for which any product is to be used may not be known, in any detail, by the person arranging the purchase contract. This is where problems often start,” says Dr Richards.
“Take steel, for example. There are many uses for steel, many shapes of steel products and steels with many different properties. Design engineers understand the requirements of their designs and specify characteristics of materials accordingly.  
“Specifications are often written in terms of steel grades, as specified in published Standards.  Steel grades are a shorthand means of specifying the complex chemistry of the metal and also physical characteristics such as tensile strength. Chemical composition and physical characteristics may be determined in many different ways and, to ensure consistency, published Standards often specify the test methods that must be used to establish the grade. These are good systems that have stood the test of time and work well in Australia and New Zealand, as everyone works to the same standards.”
However, in the wider world, each economy tends to work to local national Standards or to international Standards. Many Standards for steel are similar, but not identical.  Problems arise when materials, bought with incomplete specifications, arrive on-site, accompanied by paperwork that does not match the designer’s specification. Often neither party is keen to take on the extra work or the responsibility of accepting materials with paperwork that does not match the design specification. Disputes and delays are the result. Costs caused by delays and disputes can quickly outstrip the apparent savings gained on the purchase price. The keenly-priced, but unacceptable, product no longer looks such a bargain.
Dr Richards says a second pitfall relates to the trustworthiness of documentation presented with any product. There is a robust worldwide system of accreditation that ensures test and inspection results are technically reliable.
International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) is part of an international network of more than 70 economies in which accredited laboratories and inspection bodies have demonstrated their technical reliability and equivalence. Even with these systems in place there is increasing evidence of unacceptable paperwork arriving with products.
When IANZ started a certificate/report assessment service in 2005 most of the certificates presented related to imported consumer products and the level of non-compliance was approaching 30%. Over recent years the level of non-compliance has dropped to around 10% for these products. 
However, recently IANZ has started receiving copies of test certificates and reports related to imported steel.  The level of non-compliance, in the paperwork presented for assessment, so far has been very high.  
“It is not clear if this is representative of all steel testing certificates arriving in New Zealand, but it is certainly cause for concern.  Non-compliance does not necessarily mean fraud.  Non-compliance may be anything from the omission of test sample identification or the quoting of an unacceptable test method to the use of an accreditation body symbol when the laboratory is not accredited.  Investigation of individual cases may find the fault is with the manufacturer, the exporter, the laboratory or the organisation placing the order, or a combination of these,” says Dr Richards.
The solution is to make sure specifications are very clear and detailed when ordering materials, quote Standards for material grades and also testing methods, where applicable, require testing in accredited laboratories and require the test reports or certificates to carry the national accreditation body’s symbol.  
“Do not assume that overseas suppliers will know anything about New Zealand Standards.  If the supplier cannot meet these requirements discuss alternatives with the designer, before placing the order, or look elsewhere.  If there is doubt about the authenticity of test reports or certificates received, IANZ can help to verify their reliability and where appropriate liaise with the relevant overseas accreditation body,” says Dr Richards.
IANZ can provide guidance on the accreditation process, which economies operate equivalent accreditation programmes and contact details for the overseas accreditation authorities as well as providing informed scrutiny of certificates and reports. 
“It is always better to understand the issues in advance and prevent problems arising rather than having to sort out expensive problems after the event,” says Dr Richards. 
Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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