What is Failure Analysis?
Wikipedia defines failure analysis as “the process of collecting and analyzing data to determine the cause of a failure”. While technically accurate, at G2MT Labs we feel this description misses the key point of performing failure analysis, which is to find a solution. In metallurgical failure analysis, there are multiple potential causes of failure from environmental conditions to operating parameters and stresses.
Failure can be cause by stresses, corrosion, or a combination of both. In many cases, similar or identical failure mechanisms exist with different names. For example, stress corrosion cracking (which is caused by a combination of stresses and corrosive environment) was the blanket term used for a many decades when real cause was often more accurately hydrogen-induced cracking, hydrogen embrittlement, or sulfide-stress corrosion cracking.
Using Failure Analysis to Provide Solutions
Far too often the typical failure analyst stops at the point of determining the cause of the failure: “this appears to be fatigue”, without delving any deeper. While this may be useful for bookkeeping, the true goal of the best failure analyst should be to find a solution. This may mean providing a new nondestructive method for inspecting materials prior to or during use, improved purchasing specifications, or many other possible solutions.
More information on Failure Analysis:
– A variety of information on the potential failure modes in metallurgical failure analysis are provided here.
– The ASM Handbook on Failure Analysis is an invaluable source of failure analysis information.
– This paper from the 1999 TMS Award Winner provides a nice beginners overview of the practice of failure analysis and 6 failure analysis case studies.
Failure Modes and Effects Analysis:
A related field is the analysis of failure modes and effects (FMEA). Potential failure causes are defined and prioritized. Priority is given to specific defects, which allows designers to optimize their designs and highlight weaknesses. This practice is often used during assessments of a system to improve the robustness or design of a system.
– This short tutorial on Failure Modes and Effects Analysis provides a starting ground for FMEA.
– The wikipedia page on Failure Modes and Effects Analysis provides a nice overview of the topic.