If a business becomes aware or suspects that one of its products has a defect that could cause harm, it has no choice but to recall it – often at great cost.
And, because an efficient product recall process might help to avert a catastrophe, it is vitally important that every manufacturer has the ability to implement best practice if compelled to issue a recall.
But Peter Church of leading manufacturer and supplier of leaf chain to the materials handling industry, FB Chain Ltd, believes that all too few suppliers of forklift truck parts have the ability to trace and recall the products they sell to lift truck manufacturers, dealers and forklift users if they had to.
"As the recent cases involving some Toyota car models – with accelerator faults – and Rolls Royce – with the A380 Airbus engine – have graphically illustrated, traceability is at the heart of any efficient recall process," he says. "Leaf chain is a safety critical product, which means that those companies that manufacture and supply it simply have to have some kind of product tracking system in place. It is my view that not many actually do."
He continues: "We are seeing more examples of chain entering the UK without any form of batch marking whatsoever. It is virtually impossible to recall a batch of potentially faulty and highly dangerous leaf chain once it has entered the market if the chain cannot be matched with a batch number."
Under European regulations, manufacturers are required to batch test leaf chain and issue a manufacturing test certificate to each batch. However, because each batch will be cut in to several separate individual forklift chain orders, unless each piece of chain has some way of identifying it once it has been fitted to a truck, future traceability is all but impossible.
"Historically every single leaf chain manufacturer supplied chain with its own unique batch traceability code clearly shown. These days very few do," says Peter Church.
To ensure ease of traceability, FB Chain fits a brass plate to every metre of chain within each batch it produces and supplies. The plate is inscribed with a batch number that relates to its test certificate. Thus, should a specific batch of chain need to be recalled, it is relatively straightforward to identify forklifts fitted with the problem product.
"Like any manufacturing company FB Chain faces price pressures and we recently considered economising by dropping our brass pate," says Peter Church. "However, we concluded that this would have compromised safety, so the brass plate remains an integral part of our product offering."
In addition to traceability and product recall issues, not having a brass plate – or some other method of matching a chain to its batch number – also means that chain specifiers cannot be sure that the chain they buy is right for the truck it is intended to work on, as Peter Church explains.
"Having a manufacturing test certificate number prominently displayed on the chain not only eases traceability but also enables the chain test certificate number to be cross referenced with the chain test certificate that comes with each length of forklift chain sold. This allows the truck manufacturer, dealer or user to ensure that the chain is actually suited to work with the load capacity of the truck.
"Leaf chain is made up of a series of plates and each individual plate will be marked with its own part number but the part number is quite different from a test certificate number. If there is no way that an individual chain can be checked against its certificate, the certificate becomes worthless," he adds.
Peter Church concludes: "The leaf chain used to lift and lower the mast of a forklift is a safety critical part of any truck and chain suppliers should have the ability to recall it if they need to. By not being able to identify efficiently where their products have gone and lacking the ability to quickly reclaim them, some leaf chain manufacturers are putting themselves and, more worryingly, their clients at risk."