FTM 95: Interview with Carmen Vertullo

Everyone who listens to Fully Threaded Radio is very familiar with Carmen Vertullo, so this is an interview with Carmen.

This edition of the Fastener Training Minute with Carmen Vertullo was originally published July 23, 2015 as “interview with Carmen  Vertullo” during episode 95 of Fully Threaded Radio.

(Eric Dudas)
Everyone who listens to Fully Threaded Radio is very familiar with Carmen Vertullo. We’ve been playing the Fastener Training Minute segment for last few months, and it’s been very well received. We’ve also had Carmen on for a couple of extended segments and everybody really seems to receive those well, so we wanted to do that one more time. So this is an interview with Carmen.

Carmen welcome back to Fully Threaded Radio.

Thank you, I’m very happy to be here and thank you and Brian for letting me do the Fastener Training Minute. I always enjoy that.

(Eric Dudas)

Okay, so before we get on with that, why don’t you you revisit your background and how you got involved with fasteners? Everybody regards you as quite the guru, and of course you do a lot with the Fastener Training Institute, but your your main gig is Carver Consulting. Give us some background so we can refresh our memory on how you got to this point Carmen.


Thank you. I started off learning about fasteners when I joined the Air Force when I was 18 years old, actually I joined when I was seventeen. I didn’t lie about my age and my mom let me go. I grew up in Pittsburgh. I had to escape Pittsburgh or else work in the mill. Back in those days we had mills and I didn’t make it to college. So I joined the Air Force and was a jet engine mechanic. I loved doing that job, it was the most fun job I ever had because I got to run the jet engines on the test cell, and I got to take them apart and put them back together. They were big noisy smokey engines back in the day. from J-79s and F-5s and C-130s. I had turboprops and I worked on those three aeroplanes mainly. When you’re assembling jet engines, they tend to want you to know a few things about how nuts and bolts work, which mainly in those days came down the proper torquing using a torque wrench and identify fasteners to make sure you put the right screw in the right place, with the right thread pitch, though we used mostly fine threads in those days. And so I knew a few things about fasteners.

I got out of the Air Force after getting married and ended up in San Diego by weird turn of events, which I’ll tell you about some other time, but couldn’t find this place on a map. And we had to go to college, so I went to San Diego State and I enrolled in the M.E. program there. A little while later I was working in the aerospace field  and I needed a job. I had built some cruise missile test equipment, made parts for the Atlas rocket, that kind of stuff. Some of it having to do with fasteners. That’s where I learned about things like PEM nuts and inserts and Milspec aerospace hardware in a production environment, but I had to get a job. This guy that everybody knows named Jim Law, Jim and Kathy Law, wonderful people here in El Cajon, California have this fastener company called Ababa Bolt needed a Sales Manager. Somebody that knew me knew them and they said hey, this Carmen guy, he’d OK and he might be able to do it.

So I went in there knowing nothing about sales, nothing about management, and took a job as a Sales Manager for Ababa Bolt. It took me a couple of years to fail at that job, but Jim was very gracious and I was interested in technical stuff. So I continued to do that job for 10 years more on the technical level. We established a bunch of stuff technically, you know, we learned about wireless warehousing and barcoding back in the day. I always say our industry is late to come into new technologies and those days, you know, what helped was getting us up to speed with lot traceability and quality management. Being able to buy the technical specification product properly, and source it well and sell it well, and avoid the risks that come along with that kind of stuff. So I did that for about 10 years and by then it was the early 90s maybe, Lois and I decided that we wanted to have  our own business.

So we started this consulting company. And of course, to this day, I still have a great relationship with Jim and Kathy Law. Jim Law is a great supporter of the Fastener Training Institute. He sends tons of people to all the classes and actually teaches one of them himself. He and Andy Cohn teach the product training class. (Eric Dudas interjects) Ababa, of course, has been a long time FCH Member and we are certainly glad to have their support. Also, I love the part of your history, you basically took a job that you knew nothing about and stayed there for 10 years. I mean it resonates with me. I still, if you ask my wife, know nothing about sales or management, I have not gone to that school yet. Lois is not critical to me at all. She loves me and only has good things to say about me.

So we we started this business, and I’ll tell you a little quick Story. One of the very first consultations I had, actually a sales guy at Ababa Bolt, Larry Olson, had an issue out there with the Navy at North Island where they had a jet engine stand that had a particular fastener on it, a special fastener, that was failing left and right. They literally had their engine shop shut down for the T700 engine that goes on the Blackhawk helicopter. So Larry’s out there selling bolts and they say hey can you fix this? And he said I don’t know if I can, but I know somebody that might, so Larry drags me out there. I looked at the problem and because I was a jet engine mechanic in the Air Force, I wasn’t afraid of the stuff and we came up with a very quick solution that we brought back to them the next day. They were very impressed with that and they said: “hey we have some real issues with these engine stands here, we would like to buy some more but these are pieces of crap, and they need to be re-designed. Can you do that?” Being an M.E., I said well, let me borrow one for the weekend. They gave me one which I took home. I took it apart, documented it, and gave them a proposal.

The next thing you know, I had built three of these engine maintenance stands for North Island. It was about a $50,000 contract. I subbed everything out and literally assembled them in my garage. I drove them down in the back of my pickup truck. Never very happy, but it was illegal. You can’t just go out on the street and buy an engine stand for military engine. It wasn’t illegal for me. It was it illegal for them to have done it, but this maintenance officer had solved a problem and nobody wanted to call him out on it. So they brought out the Navy from Cherry Point and some people from G.E. and we load tested the stand, certified it, and it became the official T700 helicopter engine maintenance stand.

And we have made 70 of them now, over the last 15 years. Now they’re all over the planet in various military places, the Colombian Army has them, the presidential helicopter fleet has them, NASA has them. And so that little fastener consultation is what got us going from a fastener consulting company to a manufacturing and engineering company. So while we make lots of parts here, we’re not a production place. We’re not in the fastener business. Many of our clients come to us and say hey, can you solve this problem? We’ve got a machine shop here, so we’ll make the prototype and say O.K. here’s your drawing, here’s your prototype, go find a place to make this. If you need help will do that. And they’re supposed to go off and get it done in China or somewhere else. The next thing, you know they say hey, we need 5,000. Can you do that? I don’t want to do 5,000, I’ll do 50. But we end up from time to time having to bail our customers out with the ideas that we come up with.

The reason I say that is because it’s very important for me to have my clients know I am not a fastener supplier. I’m not going to go into competition with anybody with the ideas that you bring or that I come up with on my own. So that’s kind of my background and the Fastener Training Institute thing actually started when I still worked for Ababa Bolt. I had complained. I got on the board of what was then called to Los Angeles Fastener Association. I complained that we had good training for the the introductory folks in the industry, but we didn’t have any high-level technical training. And you know, like in all organizations, if you’re sitting around the table and you’re the guy complaining, everybody kind of looks at you with blank eyes, so what’s the solution? you just created a new job for yourself. I would like to give credit to many of the people who were on that board at the time, but I can’t remember all their names. It wasn’t like it was one person’s idea.

But of course at the time Vickie Lester was the association manager, and and she corralled us into making what was called a Certified Fastener Specialist training program. And we did that one year. I remember the first class. It was me and Bengt Blendulf and I had been in one of Bengt’s training classes. I was kind of like the ringleader. We would bring in the higher talent like Bengt Blendulf and Joe Greenslade to teach classes for us. We would bring in other industry experts. I thought it would go one year maybe two, and I thought that then everyone would be trained. Well, the last time I counted was a couple of years ago, and there were over 500 graduates of that Certified Fastener Specialist program. Well, I remember when I left Ababa Bolt, I said to Vickie, “hey, and I don’t think I can’t really do this anymore“. And I remember Vickie said “well, will you do it if we pay you?” and I know I said “sure how much?” and Vicki said “a lot“, and I said “okay, let’s do it.” And so, they were very generous, being willing to pay what a consultant needs to get paid to be away for a day. And so I’m really grateful to what was initially the Los Angeles Fastener Association, and then of course the Pac-West Fastener Association that was made out of them. And so we do training to this day. I do training here and I’ll tell you more about what’s going on here in El Cajon later, and the training side, and hopefully you’ll ask me and some okay.

(Eric Dudas)
Well with your background in the Air Force I can see why you chose the moniker Fastener War Stories, which you’ve been talking about on the most recent Fastener Training Minutes, and we’re going to ask you about a couple of those. I think you’ve got probably more than we could cover in a zillion segments. But before we get to that I’ll very quickly ask you the same thing we asked at the top of the show, which is kind of the theme of today’s episode. So from your perspective Carmen Vertullo what the Hell is going on?

Well, I’ll tell you that I get to see a little bit more than the average person in the industry. I think because I’ve lots of people in my classrooms wether it’s in Cleveland or here in in L.A. or some other part of the country. And I think one of the things that’s going on primarily is, suppliers are discovering and many have discovered, that this is a technical business.

And you have to have technical people at some level of your organization to do it properly and to do it well and to not be risking your business over it. Serious mistakes can get made because of people not being aware of the product and its application or what they can and can’t do in terms of giving advice or how their product might work in a particular application. So one of the things that I think is going on that’s huge is not just Fastener Training Institute, but all of the consensus standards organizations have significant training programs out there. The Industrial Fasteners Institute for example trains their members who are mostly manufacturers to a level that they never have before. The technical programs that the associations are putting on, the National Fastener Distributors Association (NFDA), the Pac-West Fastener Association out here in California, San Diego, coming up at the at the beginning of March. We’re doing a program on fastener graphics. I call it the Illustrated Fastener.

That’s one of the things we do here at Carver Consulting. We are upping our game as an industry in terms of bringing technology to work, not just in developing and using the fasteners themselves, but in how we present them and document them and sell them, and you know, this is all part of the product. And as always, and this is one of the War Stories I’ll tell, there’s the hydrogen embrittlement Boogeyman it never goes away. It seems like never a month goes by that I don’t get a question about hydrogen embrittlement. I just wrote an article in the Distributor’s Link magazine that came out the winter of 2016 issue I think. That article talks about one aspect of the hydrogen embrittlement issue, which is baking. When do we bake? How do we know what to bake? How long do we bake? what’s the latest in that?

I encourage everybody to read that article, but that’s just one small part of the puzzle. We will be having another article next month to deal with some other things. And you know, I’ve been writing for the Link magazine for a couple of years now. John Walkman at the Fastener Training Institute has sort of made that connection with myself and Leo Coar and Tracy Lumia, who by the way of great people. I just love working with them. They’re so gracious and patient and I’m always late and they never complain. So thank you guys, I shouldn’t say that out loud.

Anyways, the point of hydrogen embrittlement is that it’s a big thing. Sadly most folks who have had any experience with it aren’t real eager to talk about it. It’s almost like a venereal disease or something like that. You know, they are not keen to share what they’ve learned with anyone. But it’s not going to go away because you know myself and some other very incredibly tall people whose shoulders I stand on that deal with this problem, people like Joe Greenslade and Salim Brahimi, especially Salim and his operation in Montreal Abeka Technologies and At McGill University doing all this research that leads us to be able to get a better handle on this problem. But Salim is going to tell us what’s going on with the molecules and I’m going to help us deal with what’s going on with those little nuts and bolts. So that’s what’s going on in a nutshell for me right now, graphics and hydrogen embrittlement, those seem to be the things. And here’s here is the key to solving the hydrogen embrittlement problem. You know, it would be nice if somebody came up with a magic potion we could just put in the plating tank and make it not happen. I think based on what we understand about hydrogen embrittlement that’s probably not going to be the solution, but it is preventable 100% of the time.

And lots of specifications and standards will say: Hey even if you do everything right, it still might happen. Read my next Link magazine article and you’ll know why they say that. But I believe that training is the key and we can make it go away. It’s just a matter of educating the industry, not just the fastener suppliers, but the end users and the players as well.

But I guess that’s that’s a perfect segue though in to fastener War Stories because i’ve got a ton of them and I handpicked just a few to bring up on the segment here today.

Why don’t we start off with War Story number one?

War Story number 1

Okay. Well in December, we did a webinar and we covered 10 or 12 or 20, I can’t remember how many, lots of issues with structural bolting.

So I think that maybe I will maybe with a structural bolt story. A couple of years ago, one of my clients here in Southern California gave me a call and said: “hey, I’ve got a problem on a job in San Diego and you are in San Diego so I’m calling you. They’ve shut this job down because they say all of the tension control bolts that I ship them are failing the lot assembly tension test or the assembly lot tension test. And with tension control bolts, if you don’t know what that is it it’s an assembly that consists of a bolt a washer and a nut. The bolt has a spline on the threaded end. We have a special tool that sets this bolt. It’s electrically driven and it causes that spline to snap off at a predetermined torque, which if everything works right it develops a certain amount of tension in the bolt. It’s a very tricky part and it’s it’s the go-to fastener for structural bolting these days. So there’s some new stuff out there now. We won’t talk about that now, but there’s a new kind of tension control bolt out there right now. You probably need to look at our a structural webinar to learn about that.

But back to the story… So it was at a local Community College and they were building a math building, and they had shut the job down over this and they had stopped the process of installing these fasteners. And they said, here was what my client said: “they rejected 9 lots of tension control bolts“. So if you know a few things about fasteners, forget about tension control bolts, you know that when somebody rejects 9 lots of something in several different sizes from two different manufacturers, it’s statistically impossible. So one of the things that I was able to do quickly and easily was bring some calm to my client and to my clients customer, who was literally in a wild panic. I mean, I thought that he was going to have a heart attack on the phone and he was cussing up and down a storm. We have since become great friends as a result of this by the way, and he now works for test lab. But I was able to convince them. And I said: “Listen, I don’t know what the problem is exactly but it’s not the bolts because it’s technically impossible from any statistical point of view that you can have that many lots go bad on you. It’s got to be either in their test process or the tooling that they’re using“. Without giving you all the gory details it turned out they were using a Skidmore-Wilhelm which is a tool called a bolt tension calibrator. A hydraulic cylinder and a gauge that we use to do these job site tests with, that was worn out. There was a part in the calibrator that was worn out. They were using the the machine incorrectly but they didn’t want to believe us. So fortunately, and this is this is one of the key aspects if you’re in the structural bolting business, my client also had a Skidmore-Wilhelm, and it was relatively new and he brought it down here to San Diego the next day.

I’m looking at it and I’m saying: “hey, I don’t think we can use this because it’s out of calibration. You can’t bring an out of calibration tool onto a job site”. So that’s where another resource came into play. I have got a great Cal lab partner here in San Diego, and he was able to bring it in to his lab and get it calibrated in a couple hours. We were able to bring it to the job site. Then we have dueling Skidmores at the okay Corral. Theirs is on one side of the beam and mine on the other side. And I’m looking around I’m setting mine up and nobody’s giving me any help. This thing weighs a ton. The new ones don’t weigh so much by the way, you need to Skidmore talk to me. And by the way, all structural bolt suppliers should have a Skidmore. End of topic. If you don’t believe me, just call me up. I will talk you into it. I’ll send you to John O’Brien at Skidmore so you can buy yours.

So I’m looking around and next thing you know, people start turning up, and most of them are wearing suits and there’s even women in high heels, really important people in skirts, and I’m thinking, man, this is a serious thing. I sure hope I was right about this. And so we did the test. We tested the bolts in my Skidmore and they passed, we tested him in their Skidmore and they failed. So we swapped the suspect part which is called a tension plate that goes on the front of the Skidmore. They were using the wrong tension plate, it was worn out. And then the bolts failed in my Skidmore and passed in their Skidmore. End of discussion. The job is back on. They wrote a very nice quick letter got it out in the email, and off we go.

So the moral of the story for that particular type of situation is, rapid, rapid response because they were getting ready to pour some concrete on the third floor on the steel. And if they would have had to shut that down or remove a bunch of bolting, and that’s where they were they were going: remove this bolting and replace it. I remember I was there when my client and his customer were having a conversation, and he was saying: “hey get ready, we’re going to take these bolts out and I don’t really know whose fault it is, but you’re going to get charged somehow. So talk to your insurance company or your lawyer, whoever you need to talk to, because this is going to cost a lot of money”. Well my client went to his insurance company and the insurance company said, well anybody get hurt or killed, is there any damage? No. Well, it’s not covered. So I’m not an insurance agent, but it’s a special kind of coverage that you have to have apparently to deal with that kind of problem when it occurs. That’s one of my one of my favorite stories because it had a good outcome. It’s always good to have a good outcome.

So that was War Story Number One: Big-money, Skidmores, and skirts and heels, a structural bolt story, but it was in a structure and it’s a good lesson .

War Story number 2

Just very recently, a very good client of mine was at a customer who was using socket set screws in a structural steel application. They were using set screws as tension fasteners because alloy steel socket head set screws have very high hardness. So they equated the very high hardness with high strength. They were using these 3/4 by about 6 in long socket set screws, alloy steel. They were screwing them into a tapped hole, putting a piece of steel on it, and putting the nut on and tightening the nut. Well, the socket set screws were breaking. Some of them were breaking through the socket because the socket was deep enough that it was into where the threads were in tension. And of course they complained the bolts were no good, the socket screws were bad blah, blah, blah. So we had to first convince them, and the specifications for socket set screws are very clear: they are not tension fasteners and they are not to be used in tension.

So the lesson there is not to just tell somebody something is to be able to tell them from an authoritative perspective and that means the standard or specification that covers the product. So we were quickly able to convince these very smart engineers that their application was not right. But now we needed a solution, what were we going to do about this? We’ve got to get some product and so the solution of course was to make some socket set screws, because they liked the physical part of the application, that were not made out of alloy steel. We would make them out of Grade 5 or Grade 8 or some material that was strong enough but not so hard that it was brittle. And we settled on ASTM A193 Grade B7 because we could cut pieces of threaded rod and I could machine a square socket into the end of it here in my shop. So we made him some prototypes and they liked them. They said they can you get us a couple of hundred of these in a hurry because it’s going to take a while for the socket screw manufacturer to make them. So we made him a few hundred which then turned into a few thousand, because the lead time was long. But now hopefully they’re being made in 25,000 piece orders For somebody, it’s going to be very nice order. So the moral of that story is two things. One is use a standard. Don’t ever say “hey I heard Carmen say in in a webinar“, “I read in a magazine”. Quote scripture when you’re going to tell somebody some information about their application. Secondly have resources were you can bring a solution to the table quickly and easily.

War Story number 3

Well a segment on War Stories wouldn’t be complete if it did not include something on hydrogen embrittlement, and I’ve got dozens of them. But one of the more significant ones occurred several years ago where a client called me because they had sold some product that was a zinc-plated 1/2-13 alloy steel socket head cap screws. Alloy steel socket head cap screws in the inch world and in the metric world, property class 12.9 are the most susceptible products. That’s where most of our hydrogen embrittlement failures come from. I’m not going to educate you on hydrogen embrittlement right now and you’ll know why in a minute. In any case they sold this product which they are in the business of selling and producing. They buy socket screws and they plate them and they sell them to the marketplace. Hundreds of items. They sold them to a sub-tier distributor who sold them to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), who used them to hold some casters on a piece of support equipment for the Mars Lander. They put the socket head cap screws on that equipment and when they came in the next day, the socket cap screw heads had popped off, the casters had broken off, and thank God the Mars Lander was not on this piece of equipment at the time that happened. Of course, they published a report and at JPL they have some significant resources when it comes to metallurgy and failure analysis, and they not only failure analyzed this bolt they failure analyzed three or four bolts like it to show what a good bolt looks like compared to a bad one. So they descended upon the source with the report. The source sent it back to my client, who had sold it to them, and we had to come up with a root cause and corrective action.

Now it was relatively straightforward that this was a hydrogen embrittlement failure. Some failures are very easy to diagnose and this was right at the top of the list. Because we had several things going to have a susceptible part. We had a fracture surface that was clearly a brittle fracture. It happened. The fracture was right at the head-body junction. The parts were put under stress. It was a delayed failure, and then the final thing which is always the thing that I look for that is the top indicator is: was the process under control? Now from my clients point of view in terms of the process, they thought it was well under control. They were using a very good plater who had their act together. They knew how to bake the product. They were baking it for a good amount of time. So, why did this happen? We go and visit the plater and we discover that their oven did not have good controls on it. They could show us where they had plated and baked this product. They had a good record even though it was rudimentary and it was manual. They had to dig it out, but they could not prove that that oven was at the right temperature for the right amount of time while that product was in there. As well, it was their practice to put the fasteners in a bucket or bin and put them in this oven which was a fairly big oven. It was big enough you could walk in it in and out.

So we did a couple of things. One, we made them get a new calibration on the oven. They put a control system on it that included a strip chart circular chart computer type control system, so they could annotate when the product went in and how long was in there, and at what temperature. We changed their loading method from a bin to a sheet, so the fasteners would sort of go on a bakery rack on cookie sheets and we would roll those in. And we put thermocouples on the cookie sheets themselves, so that the time starts when the fasteners were up to temperature, not when they went into the oven. And we did some work more significantly than that.We trained the supplier how to test the parts. So now they 100% test for hydrogen embrittlement with their plated product, and they do a very good job of it. It’s been several years since this problem has occurred. So we have very good record of that. I think the thing to learn from that experience is is that it’s actually two things. One is you know, it’s very risky plating socket product. So if you’re going to do it, and some people including my good friend, Joe Greenslade, would simply say don’t do it, and some suppliers take that approach. But if it’s your core business or you have a customer that’s going to walk away from you over it, you need to learn how to do it, you just have to do it correctly.

And that is one of the things that we’re doing here at the Carver FACT Center, my shop here in El Cajon. And FACT means Fastening Applications Consulting and Training. One of the visions we have for the center is to be able to bring people here who need training in fasteners, in small groups for a Hands-On intensive training session, even beyond what the Fastener Training Institute does because one of the things we have all heard before is: “You can’t teach a kid to ride a bike at a seminar”.

And I thought well, you know what I’ll bet you if you bring some bikes you could do that as well. So at the Carver FACT Center we will have the tools and equipment is a workbench shop-floor environment. Of course, we’re going to use PowerPoint or going to fill you with that and all the other various types of things that we might need in terms of a training tools, but it’s Hands-On. So this hydrogen embrittlement class that we have coming up? It’s actually going to be February 29th and March 1st, right before the NFDA meeting. So probably by the time you hear this it’s it’s going to be filled up. I hope going to be filled up so we can only take 16 people because it needs to be a lot of personal attention. My intent is to do what I did for that client I just described. It actually cost him a lot of money for me to go there and train them and make sure they knew how to test their product. My hope is to bring 16 people, maybe 8 or 10 or 12 companies into the room, and they all walk away after two days of training being completely equipped to not only safely process their products that are hydrogen embrittlement susceptible, but know how to audit their plating processes, know how to test the product, know what to test, when to test, and have the equipment. As a matter of fact, I’m encouraging the attendees to bring their equipment with them which isn’t that expensive. It’s just some torque wrenches and test plates, and I’ll give you a pre-seminar consultation that will help you figure out what kind of equipment you need based on your product. So the second day we’re going to do case studies and you’re going to go through the process of writing your own hydrogen embrittlement risk management policy. So when you go back to the job, it’s not going to be a “I had some Hands-On“, you’re going to be thoroughly equipped and trained to confidently deal with this hydrogen embrittlement monster and never become a victim of it. Beyond that the next program is going to be on structural bolting. Another one is going to be on inspecting threads. A full day of inspecting threads as part of a two-day program. First day is inspecting threads, the second day will be on other types of fastener inspection features: special inspections for fasteners. We have a long list of of these types of programs. We hope to do about four to five a year. It’s in San Diego. I’m hoping folks will like what happens at the shop, you know, and you’ll enjoy yourself and our beautiful weather.

So if you’re coming to San Diego for an NFDA or an NFDA-Pac-West conference, and it’s not too late to change your travel plans, come earlier and join us also on Wednesday at the Coronado Loews Resort or the Fastener Training Institute. We’re doing of a 4-Hour 1/2 Day program on The Illustrated Fastener, you will learn about all the latest tools and simple tools for making drawings and blueprints solid models, the things you want to put on your website that illustrate how your product works. I think I have probably filled my plate up a little bit too heavy next couple months, but I’ll work it out. I have a great helper in Sean Johnson and if you could have had any drawings done by us, you have probably worked with Sean. He is my CAD engineer. I’m very happy to have him here because CAD is one of the important things we do.

So speaking about hydrogen embrittlement, you asked a question about what I know about the Bay Bridge. I wish I could answer you correctly, but I’m not a hundred percent up to speed on it, but I’ll tell you what I know. So I’m sure that anyone listening to this program is familiar with the Bay Bridge situation. A couple of years ago, maybe 3 years ago, they had the situation with the tension rods having hydrogen embrittlement failure. I’m not close to it, I have not personally worked on it and I probably should not be considered an authority by anybody that comes from the Bay Bridge. So be careful about that, but I do know people who have worked on it very closely, Salim Brahimi being one of them. And the problem was hydrogen embrittlement.

The issue had to do with the quality of the alloy steel that those rods were made from. Even though they met the specification technically, they were kind of crappy in terms of the heat treatment. The material was not consistent in terms of its microstructure and its hardness. So some parts of the material were too hard and that’s what caused the hydrogen embrittlement to occur. Even though the specification in terms of the way the product was supposed to be inspected and tested ASTM A354 BD was not detailed enough to detect that. Since then or as we speak or very shortly ASTM A354 BD will have a change that will require that any time we use a very large BD Grade fastener in a fully tensioned application, we will want some extra testing to happen to make sure that we can’t have this possibility of weird spots in the bolt where we have bad microstructure or inconsistent hardness throughout the structure.

So that’s how that was dealt with at the ASTM level. Now as to what’s the happened since then? Of course, they put a multibillion-dollar fix on it, a sort of belt and suspenders kind of fix. But even since then there have been other issues. There have been issues with nuts stripping. They found further cracking going on on certain tension rods., which I think they believe is caused by hydrogen embrittlement as well. So the saga continues and I will tell you one of the guys who is on top of this is a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle named Jaxon Van Derbeken. He’s a great guy. He is the public safety reporter there, and he’s follows this very closely. So if you want to find out, “Google” Jaxon and tell him Carmen sent you, and if you want, call him up and talk to him.

We actually brought him in and he spoke at one of our Pac-West dinner meetings in La Mirada a couple years ago and he’s a great guy to talk to. You should have him on Fully Threaded Radio if you want to know about what’s the latest with the Bay Bridge. Now I have to tell you he is Public Safety reporter and it is the San Francisco Chronicle. So he is going to have a certain bias, but he is a bloodhound and he is looking for blood. But Jaxon has done his homework, I have to hand it to him. He can talk to the technical stuff on this problem with the best of them. So if someone wants to know what’s going on, ask Jaxon and I, probably as a guy who’s supposed to know his way around the fastener industry, need to get my homework done and get up to speed on it as well. He calls me every now and then he’s quoted me a couple of times in newspaper articles. Bottom line is: it’s ongoing. I wish I could say that this will be the last time we will talk about this. When will we know if it’s safe or not? after the first earthquake, I’m not sure I think we could very well, I hate to say it, but have an ongoing saga of not knowing.

Why does the fastener industry cling to a term such as “Alloy Steel”? An alloy is a mixture of two or more materials. When two materials such as zinc and copper are heated and fused in a crucible they make an alloy called brass, and carbon and iron make an alloy called steel. And so steel is an alloy. So how come the fastener industry has dreamed up this crazy thing of calling something steel alloy? There is no such thing as steel alloy since steel is already an alloy?  That is an outstanding question and it is a legitimate source of confusion for people. Those of us who are used to it don’t see it as a problem, but it is a confusing term. So you made a good point that anytime we bring more than one metal together in a crucible and melt them and pour them out into a solid, we have an alloy. Only pure metals are not alloys. So if you have pure gold that’s not an alloy, whereas 18 karat gold for example is an alloy. Steel with carbon and other things in it is is an alloy of more than one item. So why do we call this other animal which is iron with some other alloying elements in it, such as chrome, or molybdenum, manganese or whatever else we may put in to make boron steel for example, we specifically say “alloy steel”. Well we we simply say that to distinguish alloy steel from carbon steel. So steel that is a higher or more sophisticated alloy is referred to as alloy steel to distinguish it from the common carbon steel. That’s the terminology and I agree it’s a little bit confusing. But you know for example brass is an alloy and sometimes you’ve heard the term alloy 660 or something like that, so when you say alloy it means more than one metal, but when you say alloy steel, it specifically means not carbon steel. Not just regular carbon steel, this is steel that has more stuff in it, like chrome, or molybdenum, or vanadium, those kinds of things, enough to significantly change its properties in terms of strength harness, heat treatment, heat treatability and ductility.

(Eric Dudas)

Well, I think we got a lot more than just predominantly fastener related in this segment. Thanks to Carmen. Thank you so much for joining us.


I’m happy to be here and I always enjoy coming on the program and thank you guys. This is a this is such a cool thing that we have in our industry. Having this radio show, and I’m just pleased and honored to be a small part of it. Thank you. Thank you so much,

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