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Failure Analysis – Materials

Failure analysis is the investigation into the background or history of a sample, or an event, to determine why a particular failure occurred.  A product failure may include premature breakage, discoloration or even an unexpected odor. It is useful to know if this failure is a new, unique occurrence or if it has been an ongoing issue. The investigation can involve analyzing the sample as it currently exists and extrapolating from that data what may have caused the failure. A sample of the “good” vs. “bad” product may also be useful for comparison purposes.

Physical failures (e.g. poor adhesion, pull strength, fractures, discolorations) are investigated using surface analysis and materials characterization tools. The scenario and sample type impact which analytical technique can be used.

EAG has a variety of instrumentation that is applicable for failure analysis such as Optical Microscopy, SEM/EDS, FTIR, Raman, TOF-SIMS, XPS, and Auger. We also work with experts in fracture analysis to better understand the mechanics of the fracture, failure modes and origins .

Environmental chambers are available for failure analysis, to test the effects of UV, heat and humidity on materials and products. Additionally, to better understand the problem, failure conditions can be re-created in the laboratory. Both customized analyses and application of established standards such as ASTM methods may also be employed.

For adhesion and bonding failures, FTIR, TOF-SIMS, XPS and Auger are important techniques that provide information about the molecular and/or elemental species present at the failure site. In some instances, the presence of molecular contaminants at delaminated surfaces can indicate poor contact between the bonded surfaces. Imaging delaminated surfaces can also indicate the failure mechanism (e.g. cohesive or adhesive).

EAG has successfully determined the cause of failure due to:

  • Fatigue and Other Slow Crack Growth Mechanisms
  • Brittle and Ductile Overload Failures
  • Stress Corrosion and Hydrogen Embrittlement Failures
  • Corrosion/Oxidation Problems
  • Contamination Problems
  • Wear Failures
  • Adhesion and Bonding Problems
  • Discoloration
  • Heat Treatment Problems
  • Design/Stress Related Failures
  • Plating Problems

Other failure analysis scenarios may involve analyzing unknown materials or investigating the unexpected appearance of a surface, due to particles, roughening or discoloration.

EAG scientists have investigated failures in such materials as:

  • Plastics
  • Adhesives
  • Packaging
  • Metals/Alloys
  • Coatings/Paints
  • Composites
  • Laminates

Failure analysis and product improvement of metal components, plastics or composite materials has applications across industries, including aircraft, aerospace, transportation, construction, consumer products, electronics, hostile service environments, energy production, structural components and medical devices.  Materials selection based on your engineering specifications is one of EAG’s many specialties.  The potential complexity of a failure analysis investigation means that EAG’s expertise in experimental design, instrument operation and data interpretation all increase the likely chances of success.