Fireworks and Explosive Technology

Over the July 4th weekend eWeek posted an article I wrote on what we can learn from the fireworks industry, because they provide an incredible example of scalability, flexibility and manufacturing planning due to the yearly cycle.

What we didn’t cover is the particularly devastating consequences of safety failures in that industry. BP’s oil spill and the failed safety valve has taken the spotlight as a warning to poor safety, but the fireworks industry has some particularly explosive examples more directly relevant to manufacturing. Don’t let the showmanship fool you, these accidents are both deadly and expensive.

Seest, Kolding in Denmark in November 2004

Uffculme, Devon, UK, 1998

A Dutch Fireworks factory, presumably the Enschede disaster

St.Andrew’s Fireworks Factory Luqa, Malta

These four were caught on video, but even just this year there’s been an accident in China this January that killed nine,  one in Vadipatti on June 16th in India that killed four, and one in Barangay Biniang in mid-June this year.

Accidents happen when people deviate from best-practice processes, therefore safety is all about process. The more consistent the processes are, the less likely something terrible is to happen. Certainly there are many factors contributing to these – in one case regulations about the placement of stored explosives were not followed – but in all cases, if processes were 100% consistent, this kind of thing couldn’t possibly happen.

Process consistency is at the very core of safety, efficiency, operational flexibility, regulatory adherence and even continuous improvement programs in every manufacturing industry.

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I think manufacturing is the most important industry in the world. We’re in the business of actually creating tangible objects that serve human needs and wants. It’s also often a grueling, thankless and hyper-competitive job. When your success can be measured in dollars, the cost of every rivet counts.

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