A powerful tool in risk mitigation, accurate documentation helps ensure that a part won't fail and can serve as a breadcrumb trail leading to the source of a problem, should one occur. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure the integrity of both contractual and technical engineering project documentation throughout every aspect of every project.
Types of Documentation
The type of required documentation depends on the project, and may include:
- Material certification: This type of documentation is required in virtually every project we take on.
- Inspection records: These records often include things like dimensional inspection records and non-destructive testing reports for welds.
- Testing certifications: Required virtually any time testing is performed. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to determine what testing certification is needed, but in some cases, the customer may require supplementary testing and corresponding documentation.
- Alloy identification: An independent check that confirms the alloy installed in an assembly is the right alloy as outlined in the design plans. This testing reduces the risk that a correct material is swapped out for a substandard material.
Strong documentation provides accountability and assigns liability in both the short term and long term.
An example of short-term liability would be a case in which missing documentation precluded a customer from selling or delivering hardware. The manufacturer would then have to start over with documented materials. If the manufacturer cannot produce documentation to prove the parts are right, the buyer must conclude that they are wrong.
Another example of short-term liability would be a buyer accepting a part with missing documentation and attempting to deliver it to a government client, who would then reject it. This rejection arises when the client knows there will be long-term liabilities. In this case, they are essentially stopping the liability before it gets worse, which is why the documentation exists in the first place.
Long-term liability involves equipment that does not perform correctly in the field. In these cases, documentation can prove or disprove that a part was built the way it was designed. In the wake of a failure, investigators use documentation to determine whether liability lies with the design, raw materials or manufacturing process.
This enables responsible parties to change processes, alter designs or track all other parts built with the same materials to remove those from the field and prevent further issues.
Although tracking the source of a problem is critical in cases of failure, the primary function of good documentation is to prevent failure in the first place. Good documentation instils confidence in both builders and buyers that the part will perform as intended. That confidence is especially important in critical-use applications, where failures can be catastrophic and human lives depend on the product performing.
Manufacturers in critical industries are held to the highest standards regarding their handling of contractual and technical documentation. It is critical for manufacturers to make no assumptions and review everything they receive from producers and suppliers. Good documentation provides accountability, assigns liability, and ensures quality.