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WHAT IS FAILURE ANALYSIS?

Not all failure investigations have the same objectives, and it is possible to distinguish between two broad areas of work:

In a structural failure investigation, the researcher is expected to explain the reasons behind a failure. The final question to be answered is: why? For example, why did this failure happen? As an illustration, the report ICI (1973) is of this kind.

In a forensic engineering investigation, the researcher attempts to identify the sources of failure and those who were responsible, so that legal actions can be pursued. The final question to be answered is: who? For example, who was responsible for the deficient structural design?

In this tutorial, we will concentrate on the first type of investigation. The engineering problem is to understand a failure that has already occurred, and the solution to this problem is finding an explanation that can account for a sequence of events leading to the failure. Thus, to solve a failure case we need to search for explanations.

What do experts say about failure analysis?

Failure analysis can be defined as the examination of a failed component and of the failure situation in order to determine the causes of the failure. The purpose of a failure analysis is to identify the mechanisms and causes of the failure and usually to recommend a solution to the problem” (Brooks and Choudhury, 2002, pp. 2).

The cost of each failure is not reduced to replacing the structure, but the main cost may be the interruption of the service that the structure made possible. In each case in Figure 1, the interruption of electricity affects a large population.

Figure 1. Structural collapse of high voltage transmission towers (a) A number of giant towers collapsed in Quebec in 1998, due to ice loading formed during a storm. (b) An isolated tower collapsed under severe winds. In both cases, buckling of some members occurred and triggered the collapse.
   
This research was supported by NSF-CCLI, DUE-0736828: "A Computer-Based Simulated Environment to Learn on Structural Failures in Engineering"