Metallurgist Faked Steel-Test Results For Navy Subs For Decades


SpeedSpeak2me

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I'll save you the click:


A Washington metallurgist has pleaded guilty to major fraud after she spent decades faking tests on steel used to build subs for the U.S. Navy. Federal prosecutors say that her behavior put sailors at greater risk in the event of an impact.

Elaine Thomas was employed by Kansas City-based Bradken Inc. as the director of metallurgy at a foundry in Tacoma, notes the U.S. Department of Justice. The company is the nation’s leading supplier of cast high-yield steel for Navy submarines. The Tacoma foundry supplied steel castings for Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding for use in building submarine hulls.

Back in 2017, Bradken learned that Thomas falsified the results of strength and toughness tests for at least 240 productions of steel. The Navy requires that steel meets certain strength and toughness standards to ensure it holds up to situations like impacts. These tests are supposed to show that the steel meets the grade. How bad was it? According to the Justice Department, Thomas faked the tests from 1985 through 2017 and those 240 productions add up to a “substantial percentage” of the steel produced for the Navy from the foundry.

It gets worse from there, from the Associated Press:

When confronted with the doctored results, Thomas told investigators, “Yeah, that looks bad,” the Justice Department said. She suggested that in some cases she changed the tests to passing grades because she thought it was “stupid” that the Navy required the tests to be conducted at negative-100 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to the Navy Times, even her own attorney said that she took shortcuts. She was only caught when another metallurgist noticed inconsistencies in Thomas’ records, including the doctored test cards. Bradken disclosed the discovery to the Navy but misled investigators by trying to make them believe the discrepancy wasn’t the result of fraud.

The Justice Department notes that Bradken still invoiced shipbuilders for parts that were supposed to meet standards when they did not. In June 2020 Bradken entered into a deferred prosecution agreement accepting responsibility and agreeing to overhaul its quality control, compliance and oversight. It also paid out $10,896,924 for a civil settlement for allegations that the foundry sold substandard steel to Navy shipbuilders.

As for Thomas, she faces a $1 million fine and up to 10 years in prison when she gets sentenced in February. The Justice Department says it will recommend the low end of whatever the court decides for a sentencing range. Thankfully, while prosecutors argued that she put sailors at risk with her behavior, the Navy says that it has taken extensive steps to ensure the safe operation of the affected submarines. It will also continue to monitor the parts built with the substandard metals. In addition, there were no allegations that any hull had failed.
 

v6buicks

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This hits home a bit. While I'll never do anything to fudge data for an engineer, I know some people who have no problem doing so. I find it wild given how regulated those government contracts are that it took this long for the Navy to catch on. That chick is fucked on all kinds of levels.
 

N20GT

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Hooooly shit, she should def do the full 10 years. I don't understand this one bit, she (a regular salaried employee) doesn't benefit from faking tests, and neither does their QA department. My company supplies steel for military applications, including to both the customers listed in the OP, and let me tell you the testing processes are incredibly rigorous. It's not uncommon for the tests alone to take 2 weeks.
 
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SpeedSpeak2me

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From the comments:

- So the person that faked the tests is going to prison, and the executives that lied about the faked tests .... just have to pay a fine out of the company coffers.

- And there’s no way that $10,000,000 equals anything close to their revenue nor the cost of inspecting every ship with this steel and repairing where necessary. What a joke. Corporate responsibility in the current US means doing everything illegal you can because you’ll always end up making more than the slap on the wrist fines you get.
 

Bob Hope

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I mean how far off was this steel failing in these tests? I guess there’s probably no way to know at this point.
 

blue-sun

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This hits home a bit. While I'll never do anything to fudge data for an engineer, I know some people who have no problem doing so. I find it wild given how regulated those government contracts are that it took this long for the Navy to catch on. That chick is fucked on all kinds of levels.
As a Data Analyst, I never fudge numbers. Ever. And if I have to make any adjustments on any numbers I'm reporting on, usually for operational purposes, I document it all.
 

Mr_Roboto

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This is the kind of shit that maims or kills people. To not understand why the navy tests at -100F exemplifies the depth of her ignorance or negligence or both. 10 seems light if someone got injured over this she should do time for that too.
 

sickmint79

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i am super curious what the reasoning is behind -100 f test though, cuz, that's fucking cold
 

v6buicks

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A submarine is going to see some shit. -100? Probably not, but you can bet your ass that the Navy is going to make sure that their subs are ready for any possible situation and more.

We test engines in cells so cold that everything frosts over. Will a customer ever be in that situation? Probably not, but it's better than having a recall later.
 

sickmint79

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yah but, some engine could end out in somewhere that is fuck all quite cold. but there is nowhere a sub can go that is that cold. i'm sure there is a reason for it, would just like to understand what it is.
 

sickmint79

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per a dude on reddit -

-100 F is in the mid range of the ductile-brittle transition for HY-80, which is why the standard for all DoD HY-80 and HY-100 is to undergo a Charpy V-Notch test at that point, as well as 0 F. It basically serves as a proxy to derive other properties of an alloy. It doesn't have any direct connection to submarine requirements, but that doesn't mean it isn't important.
 
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SpeedSpeak2me

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Since that kind of knowledge is way above mine, I'll use another one of the comments, which makes a good point:

You’re only thinking the outside. Lots of subs are nuclear. They require reactor cooling, unusual operating chemicals, and unconventional maintenance. While it might not hit the full -100F everywhere, there are instances where parts of the sub could experience temperatures colder than ocean water outside, and into negative territory. One prime example being techniques for repairing reactor piping with liquid nitrogen (-320F). What if that liquid nitrogen broke containment? She clearly never saw Terminator 2.

And even if we’re only talking like -25 or -50 in very isolated sections of the ship, you stress test the base material at maximum limits to ensure that it can handle that -25 or -50. It’s terrible that just because it didn’t make sense to her that she thought she was right.
 

Jon01

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How do you cripple a fleet or evaporate billions of dollars in military resources?

This is how...
 

Mr_Roboto

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It is margin built into the system for error. A
Since that kind of knowledge is way above mine, I'll use another one of the comments, which makes a good point:

You’re only thinking the outside. Lots of subs are nuclear. They require reactor cooling, unusual operating chemicals, and unconventional maintenance. While it might not hit the full -100F everywhere, there are instances where parts of the sub could experience temperatures colder than ocean water outside, and into negative territory. One prime example being techniques for repairing reactor piping with liquid nitrogen (-320F). What if that liquid nitrogen broke containment? She clearly never saw Terminator 2.

And even if we’re only talking like -25 or -50 in very isolated sections of the ship, you stress test the base material at maximum limits to ensure that it can handle that -25 or -50. It’s terrible that just because it didn’t make sense to her that she thought she was right.
Yeah, subs aren't exactly rare in the arctic circle not to mention that this isn't a toaster and is a device that people will ultimately rely on to preserve their life for decades hence the margins.
 

CMNTMXR57

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Does that temp test also equate to strength of the steel/alloy? Remember at some of the depths a sub will go, it's really fucking deep. So the steel needs to be able to handle that pressure. For example, the Laurentian Abyss that they go to in The Hunt For Red October, in reality, that is about 20,000 feet deep.
 
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SpeedSpeak2me

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A nuclear sub won't be going down to 20,000' unless something terminal happens. They just wanted to be in that location in case they had to "sink" the vessel, it would be too deep to recover.
 

Bob Hope

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It is margin built into the system for error. A


Yeah, subs aren't exactly rare in the arctic circle not to mention that this isn't a toaster and is a device that people will ultimately rely on to preserve their life for decades hence the margins.
Safety margin has to be pretty high for a sub I’d think.
 

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