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When skinny fittings aren't worth a brass razoo

by Mark Rothfield on 10 May 2012
Space Shuttle Challenger - all for an O ring SW
I remember reading, following the Space Shuttle Columbia crash, that the finger of blame could be PowerPointed at a slick 'sales pitch' which took precedence over earnest engineering evaluation.

Vital diagnostic information was glossed over in PowerPoint and a briefcase-sized piece of foam struck the wing, compromising the thermal tile protection … and it was all over, Red Rover, for the crew.

Similarly, it took only a failed O-ring to turn the ill-fated Shuttle Challenger into a cumulus cloud.

The field of engineering is littered with such tales of the $2 part causing catastrophic failure to a machine worth many thousands, and ultimately costing lives. Race car drivers have been let down by parting nuts, boat races have been lost with the breaking of a shackle.

The difference is, these failures were accidental. What if a someone knowingly used an inferior part that caused a vehicle to crash or a boat to sink? What if they did it just to save a few dollars, or euros??

Queensland-based naval architect Peter Brady claims that it’s happening in Europe with the use of inferior skin fittings and seacocks in production boats.

Apparently the CE Standard was rewritten in 1998 to require that fittings need only be corrosion resistant for five years. Some boatbuilders quickly began using common brass instead of DZR brass, silicon bronze, stainless steel or composites for skin fittings and valves.

Common brass is much cheaper.

'We are not talking about a few budget price boats here, some of Europe’s largest and best-known builders have been named,' Brady said.

'In the UK they have found total failure in fittings as little as four years old, which could have led to the boat sinking.'
Shipwrights here have confirmed they are replacing underwater fittings on some European-built boats as little as two years old, and it takes little stretch of the imagination to see a fatality in the wind.

I’d rather see profits sink before this happens. If you’re in the market for a European boat, insist on the best possible quality for all thru-hulls.

In case you did not know Brass razoo is an Australian phrase that was it seems first recorded in soldiers' slang in World War I.

It is now defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as 'a non-existent coin of trivial value'. It is commonly used in the expression I haven't got a brass razoo, meaning the speaker is out of money.

As money is often called Brass in Australia as in 'I am out of Brass' and the smallest French coin is a 'sou' Perhaps the term was 'coined' from that combination.

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