Photo/IllutrationKobe Steel Ltd.'s Daian plant in Inabe, Mie Prefecture, one of the plants where the falsification of data was carried out (Mari Endo)

In planes, trains and automobiles, the metal products that Kobe Steel Ltd., Japan's third-largest steelmaker, fabricated data on to meet customers' specifications are in wide use in daily life.

Manufacturers and government authorities are pressed to grasp the enormity of a scandal involving the company's aluminum and copper products that were falsely certified.

“It was an inappropriate act that shakes the foundation of fair trading,” said a senior official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, harshly criticizing the company on Oct. 10. “Kobe Steel is one of the major companies in the world. They must stick to their contracts.”

The products that were certified with falsified data have been widely used in public transport vehicles such as for hoods and doors of cars by leading Japanese automakers, Shinkansen trains and airplanes.

Products from the falsely certified batches were also used in equipment for the Self-Defense Forces and rockets for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Kobe Steel admitted on Oct. 8 that data on the strength and dimensions was falsified on more than 20,000 tons of products shipped over a one-year period through the end of August.

Kobe Steel sold the products in question to about 200 businesses. However, it is not releasing the names of the affected companies.

The business partners may be selling their own products made from the material to companies and consumers, and the actual extent of the spread of the questionable material remains “too large to grasp,” according to an executive of the company.

All the products that were shipped with false certification met Japanese Industrial Standards, and Kobe Steel says there has been no complaints over safety issues concerning them.

However, it has come to light that the deceptive procedures were rampant at all Kobe Steel's aluminum and copper production plants in Japan. A few dozen employees in managerial positions have been involved in the fraudulent activities.

There is also testimony that the falsification has been going on for more than a decade and concerns over long-term misconduct regarding quality control have begun to surface.

Seven major Japanese car manufacturers, including Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., Suzuki Motor Corp., Mazda Motor Corp., Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Subaru Corp., have confirmed they have used the Kobe Steel products concerned.

Daihatsu Motor Co. said it cannot rule out the possibility that parts it purchased from other manufacturers may have used the inadequate materials.

However, independent safety tests are carried out by the auto manufacturers at varying levels, and an official from the transport ministry said that the vehicles concerned were “designed with a good range for safety standards,” and “it seems there is no need for recalls at the moment.”

The products in question were also used on the H-2A No. 36 rocket, which was successfully launched on Oct. 10.

They were also used in Central Japan Railway Co.’s Tokaido Shinkansen trains. According to the railway company, data on the strength of the aluminum parts that support wheels of bullet train cars was falsified.

The company has conducted safety tests on the wheels and concluded they are strong enough to keep in use.

There is also a possibility the products were used in aircraft parts by the U.S. Boeing Co.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., Subaru and IHI Corp. have reported to the government that the Kobe Steel products were used in defense equipment, possibly including aircraft, missiles and armored vehicles.

“When the material strength is weaker, the lifetime of safe operation may become shorter, for example. It might affect the operation of our gears,” said a senior official of the Defense Ministry.

(This article was written by Naoatsu Aoyama and Yoshitaka Ito.)