A History of Inspection
Failure analysis is crucial in determining the safety, reliability, and performance of products and helps prevent costly damages and recurring problems associated with poorly designed products and machines. ASM International, a professional organization for materials scientists and engineers, published a guide on failure analysis explaining the importance of conducting technical product inspections – a process that ensures effective use of products and user safety (ASM International, 2015).
ASM International offers an example of the Wright Brothers, reminding us that success sometimes first assumes failure, and an examination of defective parts is necessary when engineering a pristine final product – or in this case, self-proclaimed flight.
While on the path to discovery, Orville Wright worked for the U.S. Army Signal Corps conducting flight tests. After his Wright Flyer crashed and a passenger was fatally injured, Orville’s brother, Wilbur, ordered the plane be delivered to France for immediate inspection. While failure analysis had not yet been introduced as a formal discipline, investigative practices such as these aided in the development of safer, more effective machines (ASM International, 2015).
Failure and Material Stressors
Failures happen in many ways and range from mechanical loss of function to loss of life by a user. ASM International’s definition of failure is the inability of a component, machine, or process to function properly, and multiple levels of failure exist within this working definition.
Loss of function assumes a system operates but doesn’t perform its intended function, such as a running jet engine that doesn’t produce the necessary thrust. Loss of service life describes a functioning machine or product that is unsafe or unreliable. All failures, no matter their magnitude, can be also be categorized by their material failure – and this is where active stressors come in.
Active stressors directly or indirectly determine the cause of material failure, and their causes depend on a variety of factors like exposure and material susceptibility. The six active stressors are categorized as mechanical, chemical, electrochemical, thermal, radiation, and electrical. Stressors and subsequent material failures occur with errors in manufacturing and improper testing and inspection by humans.
IKEA’s Furniture Failure
A case study not easily swept under the rug is IKEA’s catastrophic furniture products failure, in which three children around the age of two were killed by chests and drawers from the furniture company’s MALM line. Due to an unsafe design, furniture was unstable and easy to tip over. Lawyers contended the design could easily have been altered to meet standards set forth by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. IKEA settled with $50 million paid to the families of the three children (Andrews, 2017).
This is, sadly, not a rare occurrence. According to a 2014 report by the same commission, 84% of the 430 deaths from tipped over furniture and appliances between 2000 and 2013 were children between 1 month and 10 years old (Suchy, 2014). Government officials at that time urged the Consumer Product Safety Commission to uphold stronger safety regulations.
Where Failure Analysis Plays a Role
We’ve come a long way since the time of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s invention by creating a set of standards to inspect and improve products used by people around the world. One of the most important reasons we stand by and provide failure-analysis services is to ensure the utmost safety of individuals using a wide range of machines and products and to prevent future failures.
When scientists employ the correct instrumentation and technical experience, they can solve potentially risky problems. Sources of unknown impurities are identified, products are recalled for investigation, corrosion is identified in manufacturing systems, sample comparisons are made, and so much more.
Failure analysis laboratories provide a space for comparing ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ samples, so the comparison isn’t made out in the street, in your home, or in the manufacturing warehouse. Final reports are provided with technical data and recommendations to prevent future failures. With a team of PhDs and scientists, Avomeen is well equipped to provide the necessary knowledge and resources needed for thorough failure analysis.