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The Scientific Method versus Failure Analysis Process

My wife is a teacher and some time ago she was covering the Scientific Method with her sixth grade students. She commented that conducting a failure analysis follows the scientific method. I thought about it for a while and came to the conclusion that they are significantly different.

I certainly believe that it is important to follow a rigorous method or process when conducting a failure analysis, and in this regard, the Scientific Method and the Failure Analysis Method are similar. However, the primary difference is that when following the Scientific Method, testing is performed to prove or disprove a hypothesis. The hypothesis comes first. For example, the sixth grade science class hypothesized that lima beans that are watered once a day will grow faster than those watered once a week. In the case of a failed part, the hypothesis might be that the gear failed through fatigue due to improper molding and poor geometric tolerancing of the part.

When conducting a failure analysis, it is important to not form a hypothesis until after the testing is done. I strongly believe that having a preconceived notion regarding the basis of the failure will obscure the failure analyst’s ability to be dispassionate and arrive at the true root cause. When I get a failed part in from a client, I create a plan of attack to include fractographic examination and material analytical testing. Based upon those test results and the background information, I draw a conclusion – form my hypothesis. From there, I will evaluate that hypothesis by additional testing and demonstrating the ability to turn the problem on and off.

Sherlock Holmes quote

Here is a comparison of the two processes:

The Scientific Method

·  An idea is raised, and questions are asked, and literature is reviewed.
·  Based upon that initial review, and without testing, a hypothesis is reached.
·  Testing is then performed to prove or disprove the hypothesis.
·  The data is analyzed, and a conclusion is reached – the hypothesis is proven or disproven.

The Failure Analysis Method

·  A problem is identified – failure observed.
·  A review is conducted of the background information pertaining to design, material, manufacturing, service.
·  Testing is then performed to identify the nature and cause of the failure.
·  The data is interpreted.
·  A conclusion is reached how and why the failure occurred.

Scientific method failure analysis chat

Difference between the scientific method and the failure analysis process.

Jeffrey A. Jansen

Jeffrey A. Jansen is the Engineering Manager and a Partner at The Madison Group. He was elected as a Fellow of the Society by the Society of Plastics Engineers. Jeff is a proven plastic professional with more than 30 years of experience solving problems and addressing opportunities related to polymeric materials. He specializes in failure analysis, material identification and selection, as well as compatibility, aging, and lifetime prediction studies for thermoplastic materials. Jeff has performed over 5,000 investigations, both for industrial clients and as a part of litigation. He regularly presents seminars and webinars, covering a wide range of topics related to plastics failure, material performance, testing, and polymer technology. Jeff is a graduate of Carroll College and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.