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How to Conduct a Failure Analysis

A failure analysis is much like the work of a detective. Important clues are discovered throughout the investigation that provides insight into what may have caused the failure and what contributing factors may have been involved. The failure analyst is aided by a broad knowledge of materials in general. Success is more likely if the analyst is aware of the failed materialís mechanical and physical properties and its fabrication and historical performance characteristics. The analyst must also possess a working knowledge of structural design and stress behavior.  (reference: Dr. Zee)

A component is considered to have failed when it has deteriorated to the point at which it is unsafe or only marginally capable of performing its intended function. For an item to be classified as a failure it need not be completely broken. As an illustration, consider a fracture as a type of failure. Fractures occur in materials when cracks are initiated and propagate to a greater or lesser degree. They may not go to completion. Cracks may be initiated by mechanical stresses or environmental- or chemical-influences, by the effects of heat, by impurities in the material or by a combination of these and many other factors. Understanding the relative importance of those factors in the specific case at hand is the job of the failure analyst.