The need for sound mechanical design and analysis is apparent to most industry specialists and business owners, but just as important is the analysis of these designs when they fail in practice. Failure analysis entails data collection and study on the nature of a product or system’s breakdown when in use—how it happened, the conditions that led to the failure mode and what can be done to prevent future failures. This practice is vital for both developing new products and finding ways to improve on existing ones.

What Failure Analysis Looks Like

Failure analysis is rooted in the scientific method: determine the issue, form a hypothesis, gather data, use that data to test the hypothesis and derive conclusions. In practice, this process can be lengthy, comprising multiple stages of data collection, specimen testing, macroscopic and microscopic examination and comparison between failed and intact specimens. Sometimes, experts from multiple backgrounds are required because of the various kinds of testing and equipment needed.

However, this comprehensive analysis is well worth it for the diagnostic results. Failures can occur for various reasons, including improper usage or maintenance, assembly or fabrication errors, design flaws and poor quality materials. Naturally, finding such flaws can be vital.

Applications of Failure Analysis

There are many reasons to conduct failure analysis, ranging from safety and financial concerns to pursuing litigation.

  • If a failure mode arises due to fabrication flaws, identifying those flaws goes a long way in improving the manufacturing process and product quality, better satisfying clients and customers.
  • Halted production, repair costs and legal fees are just some of the financial losses that can arise from failure, providing good incentives to prevent future problems when possible.
  • Identifying likely causes of a failure mode are often key in pursuing or avoiding legal action, especially when injury or death result from product failure.

As a result, having dedicated tools and expertise available for performing failure analysis is vital throughout most industries.