We believe that it is accurate to state that the goal of receiving ongoing shipments of qualified, consistently made MgO boards from China has not yet been reached. There several reasons for this and in order to solve these issues the MOCA buying group / QA supply channel has been created. We have made good progress with this platform, but the work is not yet completed.
Our strategy started by selecting factories who have the necessary facilities and mindset including:
- A working QA manual and appropriate process to ISO standards.
- A suitable lab and qualified people to operate it
- Suitable production equipment including ideally, metered raw material silos. (some factories still use buckets or bags to measure raw materials and this may be considered acceptable in some cases)
- Monitored curing chambers that track temperature and humidity over time.
- A relationship with a qualified expert to assist with formulae and QA.
- A willingness to embrace better production methods
- Annual or semi-annual testing to GB 33544 with 100% compliance
We now have half a dozen or more factories who are contenders for the MOCA program.
Although the above criteria are critical components, they are not enough to ensure consistently made, qualified boards are shipped every time.
In addition, we strongly recommend that samples are also sent to the CMMA, ILAC accredited lab in Beijing for third party testing so that each batch comes with its own certificate of compliance showing critical results such as:
- Bending strength
- Manufactured water content
- Free chloride ion content
- Other strength levels, compressive, screw pull-out or through results
- Hygro-thermal movement
- Compliance with buyer’s specification as required.
Upon successful compliance testing, the boards contained in the lot or batch can then be stamped with the MOCA mark, and product markings which also indicates the factory code, date of manufacture (lot) and grade or specification.
Unfortunately, this too is not enough, as in every set of samples sent for lab testing so far has at least one area of non-compliance. This then raises the issue of accepting the boards if the non-compliance tests do not affect the intended use or having the order re-made, with the resulting time delays.
We have determined additional measures to solve these problems but have not been able to put them into practice so far. This involves developing a buying group who would then be able to apply more leverage to the suppliers to follow this system and to provide us with the data points to prove their compliance with all of these necessary steps.
We have taken it on ourselves to develop a MOCA QA system taking the best practices learned from the many factory visits, reviewed by the resident experts in China and by the CCMC, who have also taken a serious look at how to make qualified products. This is still a work in progress that requires additional funding and resources. MOCA suppliers would sign on to the MOCA QA system and would be audited by a MOCA approved auditor on and annual or more frequent basis. This work can be done by Intertek or other ISO17065 accredited agency which will further assist in having boards certified for use in NA and other jurisdictions without paying for the same service twice. Intertek Shanghai has tentatively approved this idea.
In addition, it would be best for group members to pre-order inventory so that a larger batch can be made, cured, tested and marked, ready for shipping when shipping orders are placed. Inventory can be stored in China at reasonable cost and delivery times significantly reduced following this method. In time, as suppliers reduce their non-compliant products to an acceptable level, perhaps more just-in-time production could be re-engaged.
Also, taking a page from the lumber industry, it is accurate to say that to date all Chinese factories prefer to ship “mill-run” products. That is to say, they tend to not sort boards into compliant and non-compliant products but instead, if the order is approved on the random sample, they will ship it all, leaving the customer to conduct the sorting process. This is a cheaper way to buy the boards, but it leaves the buyer with the task and expense of testing, grading and dealing with non-compliant boards.
If there is time and a suitable facility, mill-run boards could be put through an in-line testing apparatus to sort by various criteria. Bending strength, compressive strength, size and surface quality may be relatively easy to test for using a testing/stress rating machine such as is used for machine stress rated (MSR) lumber. Research is required to determine if this idea is viable, as there are questions around potential degradation of the board if they are subjected to “machine-stress-ratings” as the cement may not be as plastic as lumber. In any event it is likely that we can develop a system that can determine if all the boards are similar or with a variance, and how big, between boards in the same batch.
Following this system may also provide us with the ability to group similar products into various classifications and test boards as a group. These certifications would be registered to MOCA and the factories, and be paid for by the factories, which will reduce the costs currently borne by the buyers. When and if a factory closes, moves or significantly changes it operations or fails an audit, other factories can provide similar products without the need for additional expensive and time-consuming re-certifications. The CCMC has blessed this concept although a review of the MOCA QA system is required along with a CCMC Tech Guide for full acceptance. Each plant that participates in a program such as this will be required to have a third-party QA audit program in place and provide annual statements of compliance.
At this time, we invite input and comments from MOCA members and industry stake holders on the technical merits and operational feasibility of our proposed program.