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Getting to the Root of the Cause with Failure Analysis

Understanding the importance of failure analysis will help you make better informed decisions within your company. Whether it’s choosing a different manufacturer or changing the environment of the failed part, finding the true root cause of a failure can assist you in making corrective changes and preventing new failures.

A Natural Curiosity

Throughout history, there has always been a drive and passion to discover why something failed. As with any product, item or piece, things fail and there’s a level of responsibility to determine exactly why it did and most importantly, how to prevent it.

Defining the Process

Failure analysis is the process of investigating the root cause of a failure for components that unexpectedly fail while in service. Accredited laboratories like Exelon PowerLabs dig deeper into the underlying issue using various testing methods in order to find the right answer. While there is undoubtedly a reason for the failure, there can also be multiple contributing factors.

The Need for Failure Analysis

There are a handful of reasons why your operation may need to use failure analysis testing when experiencing a failed part. Safety is always the highest priority, but you may also want to be more efficient in your production and that includes the list of manufacturers you use for your inventory. Also, learning a part in your operation that consistently fails can also be costly for your business. The goal in failure analysis testing is to support your operation, so that you can continue to be productive in your daily routine without taking away time and energy from your production.

Investigating the Factors

To understand why a part failed, it takes some investigation through observations and collection of data. In order to get the right information before moving further, the technician must gather some answers and ask a series of questions specific to the product. Questions such as:

  • What was the sequence of events that lead to this failed component?
  • What was the component doing when it failed?
  • Were there similar problems found in the same spot where the component failed?
  • How was this failed component discovered?

Aside from the collection of data, drawings, documents, and photos, more can be taken into consideration for evaluation. After the technician has enough information, they can then build their hypothesis.

Making Theories

Defining the issue is one matter but proposing a hypothesis as to why this might have happened is another. Using the collection of data that was originally gathered can help the technician in their testing methods and ultimately assist them in their journey to finding out why.

Evaluating Testing Methods

When analyzing failed components, the technician might perform several examinations by disassembling the item to further inspect it. Visual inspection is one of the most common methods in failure analysis. From using microscopes to applying light sources like fluorescent lighting can help the tech examine the piece and provide better insight.

This is just one of the many ways a failed component can be inspected. When the failed part becomes more technical, so does the examination which leads to a wide array of methods. A few other examples of some more intensive testing methods include:

  • Mechanical Testing – Here the technician would try to re-create the failure.
  • Scanner Electronic Microscope – The ability to magnify the item by 1000 times down to the grain.
  • Material Testing – Learn what the component was made of and if it is what it was supposed to be.

This is only a brief glimpse of the capabilities that an accredited laboratory like Exelon PowerLabs can provide.

Correcting the Action

After identifying the root cause, it is important to apply what you learned from the failure analysis and make sure this does not happen again. In order to prevent this from re-occurring, you can develop a corrective action plan to better assist you. Here are some examples of taking preventable measures:

  • If you experienced a failed part due to manufacturing reasons, you may want to go back to the manufacturer to make sure they are meeting design requirements.
  • Learning that temperature contributed to the failed component, whether it was too hot or cold, can lead you to find a part that can perform in that temperature setting.
  • Having learned that the item was mishandled, it’s important to then train employees on how to properly use it.
  • Once you have learned that you did not use it as it was intended to its design specifications, review and use the design as per instruction.

With Failure Comes Improvement

Finding out why something failed can lead to positive changes in your operations, from supporting daily production to the overall safety. Here are a few of the benefits your company can experience when you find the root of the cause from a failure analysis:

  • Reduce Costs – After the problem has been identified, there will be less maintenance.
  • Safety – Identifying the cause can contribute to not only the safety of the environment, but also allow safer working conditions.
  • Reliability of your equipment – When the equipment is used correctly, production can successfully run.
  • Design Changes – Change the system or the way you operate to the proper intended use of the item.

Building a Better and Safer Future

Failure Analysis is meant to bring awareness about the characteristics of a failed component and shed light on why it happened. Finding the root of the cause can not only prevent it from happening again, but it can also improve the safety of your employees, the environment of your operation and create a positive impact on production.

Exelon PowerLabs’ team of experts will work every step of the way with you to find you the answers you need to build a better tomorrow. 

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