A report submitted to Congress from the Commerce Department this week recommends that the Fastener Quality Act of 1990 be significantly amended so that coverage is limited to high-strength fasteners only, paperwork requirements are streamlined, quality management systems of sufficient rigor and consistency being used by fastener manufacturers are recognized, and fraud in commercial transactions involving fasteners can be punished.
"The primary goal of the FQA has always been to assure public safety where fasteners are involved," said Commerce Secretary William Daley. "If Congress determines that it is appropriate to continue to regulate fasteners, the amendments we propose will finally create an implementable FQA: one that reflects the tremendous strides made by industry to improve fastener quality since the Act was passed in 1990 and one where compliance will impose the least possible burden on industry."
The five-month Commerce Department FQA study, which was requested by law last August, relied heavily on comments and data received from hundreds of fastener manufacturers and end users, industry associations, government agencies and universities. Analysis of the information led the Department to conclude that the number and magnitude of problems with fasteners are a fraction of what they were when the Act was created a decade ago. Among the reasons identified for this quality improvement were advances since 1990 in fastener manufacturing technology and better procedures for military and federal procurement of fasteners.
To address the remaining areas where fasteners may still be a public safety problem, the report recommends that the FQA be amended in four main areas:
In order to approach the original intent of Congress to cover "1 percent of high-strength fasteners used in critical applications," the report recommends coverage under the Act should be limited to only high-strength fasteners—those possessing a minimum tensile strength 830 megapascals (120,000 pounds per square inch), the generally accepted level for "high-strength" steel fasteners throughout the industry.
The report defines fasteners covered under the FQA as limited to bolts, nuts, screws, studs or direct tension-indicating washers having (1) a nominal diameter of 5 millimeters (0.25 inch) and greater; (2) manufactured to standards and specifications of consensus standards organizations or government agencies that requires a grade mark; and (3) meeting the minimum specified tensile strength criterion.
To encourage the use of quality management systems such as QS 9000, the FQA study report recommends fasteners should be deemed FQA compliant if they are manufactured in a facility registered (by a NIST-approved body) to use such a system.
In order to be registered, the quality management system must incorporate advanced product quality planning, monitoring and control of manufacturing processes, a written control plan with a quality assurance standard, manufacturing records, traceability of raw material, and traceability of subcontracted processes.
To reduce paperwork reporting burdens, the FQA study report recommends that companies be allowed to transmit and store electronically all reports on fastener quality provided there are reasonable means of authentication of the source of the document and reasonable protection against alteration.
The reporting requirements for a covered fastener should continue to be the laboratory test report and the certificate of conformance that identifies the fastener by description, lot number, and the manufacturer or private label distributor.
The vast majority of fastener fraud cases prosecuted to date have involved fraud in federal government procurement. The laws under which these cases have been brought generally address only acts against the government. During the five months of the Commerce FQA study, industry comments repeatedly named fraud as the biggest issue that the Act needed to address. Therefore, the FQA study report recommends that Congress amend Title 18 of the United States Code to specifically address fraud in public and private commercial transactions involving fasteners.
The complete text of the Commerce Department FQA report will be posted on the World Wide Web shortly at www.nist.gov/fqa. Additional information—including the text of the original legislation and previous amendments, fact sheets, answers to inquiries submitted by industry, instructions for fastener quality testing laboratories to apply for accreditation, and the current list of accredited testing laboratories—is available at the same web site.