Another One: Japan’s “Fake Data” Scandal Hits Mitsubishi Materials
So Kobe Steel was not an isolated incident and faking data on manufacturing quality in Japan is quite common, as other lower profile scandals at Nissan Motor and Takata proved. Today another culprit has come to light: Mitsubishi Materials – which may need to re-consider its corporate philosophy “For People, Society and the Earth” and Articles 2 and 3 of its code of conduct “Safety First” and “Compliance”.
The company has admitted to falsifying data on rubber seals, brass strips and aluminum products sold to more than 250 customers in the aerospace and auto sectors. Having hit a two year high earlier this month, Mitsubishi Materials’ share price plunged during the Tokyo trading session, closing 8.1% lower on the day at 3,760 Yen, having traded as low as 3,635 Yen.
More from Bloomberg:
Japan’s reputation for manufacturing prowess took another hit as Mitsubishi Materials Corp. admitted it faked data on some products just weeks after a similar scandal engulfed Kobe Steel Ltd. Buyers of Japanese industrial goods from Boeing Co. to Airbus SE were once again scrambling to confirm whether safety had been compromised after Mitsubishi Materials said three of its units had faked data on products that may have been delivered to more than 250 customers. Its shares plunged as much as 11 percent in Tokyo, the most in eighteen months.
Mitsubishi Cable Industries Ltd. falsified data on rubber seals, while Mitsubishi Shindoh Co. misreported the strength of brass strips for auto parts, according to a statement Thursday. The products may have been shipped to 229 Mitsubishi Cable clients and 29 customers of Mitsubishi Shindoh. A third unit, Mitsubishi Aluminum Co. Ltd., also supplied non-conforming products, although it has already confirmed with customers that they are safe, the company said, adding that its investigation hasn’t uncovered any cases that raise the possibility of legal violations or safety issues.
The number of scandals of this type is a growing embarrassment to Japan’s famed manufacturing excellence and quality control.
The revelation is the latest in a series of scandals to dent the image of Japanese manufacturers and closely resembles recent admissions by Kobe Steel that it falsified data on the strength and durability of its products. In the auto sector, Nissan Motor Co. has said it conducted vehicle inspections that didn’t comply with regulations for almost four decades, while Subaru Corp. allowed uncertified workers to inspect vehicles before shipment. Takata Corp. filed for bankruptcy earlier this year because of faulty airbags.
A disconcerting feature of the breaking scandal at Mitsubishi is that like recent “incidents” at Equifax and Uber, the company was aware of the fake data problem at its Mitsubishi Cable subsidiary in February 2017, but failed to halt shipments until last month.
Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko called the matter “extremely regrettable” at a briefing Friday, and said the ministry has asked related departments to investigate its causes and is seeking an explanation from Mitsubishi Cable on why it took so long to report its problem. He added that he considers it a matter for the companies and not an industry-wide issue.
According to the statement, Mitsubishi Cable uncovered the misconduct in February and stopped shipping non-conforming products on Oct. 23; the company told its parent two days later. Mitsubishi Shindoh found out about its problem in October and stopped shipments on Oct. 18, alerting Mitsubishi Materials the following day.
As the Financial Times reports, the falsification of data stretches back to 2015 at Mitsubishi Cable and Mitsubishi Shindoh has a joint venture with Kobe Steel.
Mitsubishi Materials said in a statement that its Mitsubishi Cable Industries unit had falsified data since April 2015 on the quality level of rubber O-rings, which are used to prevent leaks in aircraft, cars and other industrial equipment. Another subsidiary, Mitsubishi Shindoh, was found to have delivered metal products with quality levels below that claimed by the company or requested by customers.
Mitsubishi Materials has a 45 per cent stake in a copper tube venture with Kobe Steel, stemming from a partnership formed in 1999 alongside affiliate Mitsubishi Shindoh. That joint venture includes the Hatano plant south-west of Tokyo that has become the focal point of Kobe Steel’s data falsification scandal, and been subsequently stripped of numerous Japanese and international quality certifications.
Mitsubishi Cable employs around 500 workers and Mitsubishi Shindoh over 1,000 out of a group workforce of some 25,000. In the year to March 2,017, group sales were $11.6 billion and net profit $252 million. “Even if Mitsubishi Shindoh and Mitsubishi Cable don’t make up a big portion of the company’s earnings, not just the short-term impact, but the mid and long-term impact on its orders is a cause of concern,” Keiju Kurosaka, senior analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, told Bloomberg.
Naturally, when these “fake something” scandals relate to high precision engineering parts, attention immediately turns to the manufacturers of commercial aircraft. Airbus published a statement saying that it doesn’t directly procure parts from Mitsubishi Materials and is investigating its supply chain. Boeing said that it’s reviewing the matter. Whether it’s a precedent for Mitsubishi Materials, time will tell, but Bloomberg notes that none of Kobe Steel’s customers have reported a safety problem so far.
Kobe Steel’s crisis erupted in early October, collapsing its shares. Although 525 customers were affected, none has yet to report safety issues and no products have been recalled, allowing its stock to recover some of its losses. As of last week, shipments to 484 clients had been given the all-clear.
Kobe blamed lax controls and too much focus on profit for its short-comings, including unrealistically high standards that exceeded clients’ expectations, which encouraged staff to disregard quality guidelines for a decade or more. The company was forced to abandon its profit forecasts and has lost quality assurance certification — often demanded by customers as a condition of sale — at seven of its 20 plants.
Mitsubishi Materials has to explain itself to the Japanese government by tonight. Transport Minister, Keiichi Ishii, stated that Mitsubishi Materials will report to his Ministry later on Friday with details on products and customers affected. He said that he will instruct the company to put the highest priority on safety…too late. We are nervously awaiting the next “revelation” on Japanese manufacturing.