Preventing Failure Analysis Frustration
Have you ever run into the following situation? A component within your product broke or your manufacturing line was producing bad components, and you wanted to determine the root cause of the failure. This required determining the failure mode and failure mechanism, and also determining whether there were any metallurgical deficiencies in the metal. So, you sent a sample to a metallurgical lab and got a report, but the report didn’t have the information you needed or you didn’t know what to do with the information in the report.
Failure analysis results
There are things you can do to prevent these problems from occurring, and improve your chances of determining the root cause of the failure. This article discusses how to work with a metallurgical lab to ensure the likelihood of getting the information needed to determine the root cause of a failure and to ensure that working with the lab is a positive experience.
1) Provide samples and background information before asking for a quote.
It’s difficult for a metallurgist to accurately quote the costs and time required to perform a failure analysis without getting a chance to visually examine the samples and without getting some information about the failure circumstances. The type of failure and the information needed by the client will are factors in determining which analyses will be required. Also, the size and shape of the samples and the materials that comprise the samples will influence the preparation required for the analysis and whether all the required analyses can be performed.
2) Selecting the analyses to perform.
To many people, metallurgical failure analysis techniques are a mystery. Is scanning electron microscopy or a metallographic exam necessary? Many people don’t know what to ask for when submitting a sample for failure analysis. The best thing to do is to provide the metallurgist with detailed background information about the failure and ask him to determine the failure mode and failure mechanism. Also, ask him to determine whether there were any metallurgical deficiencies that might have contributed to the failure. Metallurgical deficiencies include alloy composition, microstructure, tensile properties, and hardness that did not meet specification or were not appropriate for the application.
Let the person performing the failure analysis select the analyses needed to obtain the desired information. It’s best not to try to steer the metallurgist in any direction or to select the analyses to perform without getting the metallurgist’s input on the analyses required to get the information needed to determine the root cause of the failure. I’ve seen reports from metallurgical labs that provided the information the client requested, but did not lead to a complete understanding of the failure or its cause. Many labs will do what a client requests. It’s best not to constrain the metallurgist by giving too much direction.
Also, ask the metallurgist to determine the root cause of the failure, if it is possible. Many times, it is possible for a metallurgist to determine the root cause of a failure. However, the ability to do this often depends on the background information you can provide.
3) Samples for analysis for manufacturing or assembly problems
For manufacturing or assembly problems, send samples of components or sub-assemblies that meet specifications, along with the samples that do not meet specifications. If needed, analysis results of the “good” samples can be used for comparison. Also, if a metallurgical exam has never been performed on “good” samples, the results will be helpful to verify whether the “good” samples are in fact metallurgical “good.”
4) I don’t understand the report
What’s transformed austenite? What’s dimple rupture or cleavage? What’s a grain boundary precipitate? Let’s face it, metallurgists have their own language. It makes plenty of sense to us. Unfortunately, many reports require a translator. After reading the report, call the metallurgist and ask him to go through the report with you. Have him explain the results and what they mean. By the way, do this soon after receiving the report, when the analysis and results are still fresh in the metallurgist’s mind.
5) Don’t expect the metallurgist to be able to determine the root cause of the failure
Assuming that it was possible to determine the failure mode and mechanism, you still need to figure out the root cause of the failure. It may be possible for the metallurgist to determine the root cause, if you provided enough background information about the failure. However, in many cases, especially for manufacturing and assembly failures, you will probably need to get more information about the circumstances leading to the failure. However, in many cases, the information from the failure analysis will point you in the direction of where to look for the additional information.
6) Treat the metallurgist like a member of your engineering team
Find a metallurgist you’re comfortable working with and treat her like a member of your team. Invite her to meetings about the failure. The information she gains from participating can be huge for helping her figure out the analyses required, the samples to analyze, and possibly the root cause of the failure. Too often, people keep the metallurgist in the dark, which can slow down the failure analysis and root cause analysis process. Remember, this person is supposed to be an expert
Successful failure analysis
A successful failure analysis results in getting information that leads you to the root cause of the failure. Following the advice in this article will increase the likelihood of getting the information you need, and make the process less frustrating, or maybe even enjoyable, if a failure analysis can be enjoyable.
Interested in learning more about failure analysis and root cause analysis? Check out our course Failure Analysis of Metals. You’ll learn about the different situations that require failure analysis, the analysis techniques used to determine failure mode, failure mechanism, and metallurgical characteristics, and the failure analysis steps for fracture, corrosion, and manufacturing failures.
"A group of us took several courses (Principles of Metallurgy, Metallurgy of Steel, Corrosion of Metals) to become more knowledgeable about the science of metals to avoid problems. For me, the biggest impact of the training was on working with suppliers. I feel more confident asking questions and I now know the suppliers which know their stuff and which ones don’t. And it was great being able to get the training when it was convenient for me."Sam Bloodgood, VP Process Improvement, Hydraforce, Inc.
"I oversee several operations, including steel heat treating and laser welding. However, my background was in the construction materials industry. Principles of Metallurgy gave me the knowledge to have meaningful discussions with my engineers and be able to ask them better questions."Tom Parkman, Plant Manager, Simonds International.
“Principles of Metallurgy exceeded my expectations. The content was straightforward enough not to be burdensome, yet deep enough to provide a practical review of fundamental principles. I recommend this course to any engineer or technical person who has been out of school and working in industry for several years, but not necessarily having been focused on metallurgy.”Andy Jacobs, Staff Engineer, DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc.
“The Principles of Metallurgy course is broke up into convenient length modules that can be fit into the busiest schedule. The course is a good review for engineers who had a materials class ten or more years ago.”Paul Flury B/E Aerospace
“This is an excellent course (Metallurgy of Steel Heat Treating) for learning basic heat treating practices. The course introduces and covers a broad range of processes. I would recommend it for anyone in the steel business.”Jim Marks, Magellan Corporation
“This course has given me more confidence in my job and given me a better understanding of some of the heat treatments used in the business.”Mark Winter, Abbey Forged Products
Why Industrial Metallurgists?
- Practical, up-to-date content.
- Metallurgy expertise and 20+ years of experience.
- Courses designed for non-metallurgists.
- Training accessible from anywhere with internet access.
- Engaging content.
- Convenience. Learn when it suits your schedule.
- Avoid being overwhelmed with too much information at one time. Set your own pace.