Failure analysis is an important field to engineers, attorneys, and the public. One can search on the internet for any number of background articles that deal with the failure analysis process.

 

The failure analysis process can be broken down into three major tasks. These tasks include:

 

  • Data collection
  • Data analysis
  • Recommendations and conclusions

This would appear to make the failure analysis process a very simple and straight forward process, but it is a process that can be complicated by many factors. In addition, there are many different fields of failure analysis that have their own variations and approaches to data analysis. These fields include but are not limited to:

 

  • Metal failure analysis
  • Materials failure analysis
  • Structural failure analysis
  • Construction failure analysis
  • Mechanical failure analysis
  • System failure analysis
  • Electrical failure analysis
  • Equipment failure analysis
  • Heat transfer failure analysis
  • Plus many more specific areas

Failure Analysis Data Collection

 

The first step of collecting all of the data is critical to the overall failure analysis process because missing even one piece of data can lead to the wrong conclusions. The failure analysis data collection process should start as soon as possible after the item of interest has failed or when the problem or issue has been noted. The longer the delay from noting the problem to the start of data collection can lead to data being lost or misplaced.

 

The failure analysis data collection process should include:

 

  • How or when the failure occurred
  • Background information on the failed part, system, or process
  • Operating history for the part and/or system
  • Samples, photographs, data records, etc. need to be located and safely stored
  • Notes need to be generated on all of the information that is collected
  • Considerations for the chain of custody

 

Data Analysis

 

The type of testing performed for a failure analysis will vary depending on the type of failure that has occurred. The general types of techniques used would include a failure mode analysis in conjunction with:

 

  • Non-destructive testing
  • Destructive testing if allowed
  • Chemical analysis
  • Accident reconstruction
  • Finite element analysis
  • Metallurgical testing – macroscopic or microscopic
  • Plus analysis of operating data and history

 

What also has to be considered in the analysis is missing data. For example, not having all of the parts from a mechanical failure analysis could lead to the wrong conclusion if consideration is not given to what the parts might show. Or, uncertainty as to the source of a particular chemical contaminant could lead to improper corrective action.

 

Recommendations and Conclusions

 

The last part of the failure analysis process is the most important to your client. They will want to know what happened, why it happened, and how to prevent it again in the future. Incomplete data analysis, missing parts, or an oversight on the analyst’s part can have serious ramifications. The conclusions should reflect what was found during the failure analysis, but should not make too general or speculative statements that are not supported by the data.

 

There needs to be a direct link between the recommendations being made as a result of the failure analysis and the results of the data analysis. For example, if a failed metal part indicates it is a fatigue failure, does the corrective action either address the loads placed on the part that caused it to fail, or does a suggested material substitution have adequate fatigue properties to stand up under the know loading conditions? In this example, the data analysis should have included a testing component and a stress analysis component to truly assess the cause of the failure.

 

Further articles regarding failure analysis data collection and common data analysis techniques common to different types of failure analysis (electronic failure analysis, mechanical failure analysis, design failure analysis, etc.) will be posted in the near future.

 


This article was written by Randy Clarksean, Ph.D., P.E., President of Kevin Kennedy Associates Inc. Randy has over 25 years of engineering, failure analysis and expert witness testimony experience. Randy can be reached at 317-536-7010 or via email at RandyC@KevinKennedyAssociates.com.

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