Failure analysis

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Failure analysis is the process of collecting and analyzing data to determine the cause of a failure, often with the goal of determining corrective actions or liability. It is an important discipline in many branches of manufacturing industry, such as the electronics industry, where it is a vital tool used in the development of new products and for the improvement of existing products. The failure analysis process relies on collecting failed components for subsequent examination of the cause or causes of failure using a wide array of methods, especially microscopy and spectroscopy. Nondestructive testing (NDT) methods (such as industrial computed tomography scanning) are valuable because the failed products are unaffected by analysis, so inspection sometimes starts using these methods.

Forensic investigation[edit]

Forensic inquiry into the failed process or product is the starting point of failure analysis. Such inquiry is conducted using scientific analytical methods such as electrical and mechanical measurements, or by analysing failure data such as product reject reports or examples of previous failures of the same kind. The methods of forensic engineering are especially valuable in tracing product defects and flaws. They may include fatigue cracks, brittle cracks produced by stress corrosion cracking or environmental stress cracking for example. Witness statements can be valuable for reconstructing the likely sequence of events and hence the chain of cause and effect. Human factors can also be assessed when the cause of the failure is determined. There are several useful methods to prevent product failures occurring in the first place, including failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) and fault tree analysis (FTA), methods which can be used during prototyping to analyse failures before a product is marketed.

Failure theories can only be constructed on such data, but when corrective action is needed quickly, the precautionary principle demands that measures be put in place. In aircraft accidents for example, all planes of the type involved can be grounded immediately pending the outcome of the inquiry.

Several of the techniques used in failure analysis are also used in the analysis of no fault found (NFF) which is a term used in the field of maintenance to describe a situation where an originally reported mode of failure can't be duplicated by the evaluating technician and therefore the potential defect can't be fixed.

NFF can be attributed to oxidation, defective connections of electrical components, temporary shorts or opens in the circuits, software bugs, temporary environmental factors, but also to the operator error. Large number of devices that are reported as NFF during the first troubleshooting session often return to the failure analysis lab with the same NFF symptoms or a permanent mode of failure.

The term failure analysis also applies to other fields such as business management and military strategy.

Failure analysis engineers[edit]

A failure analysis engineer often plays a lead role in the analysis of failures, whether a component or product fails in service or if failure occurs in manufacturing or during production processing. In any case, one must determine the cause of failure to prevent future occurrence, and/or to improve the performance of the device, component or structure.

Methods of analysis[edit]

The failure analysis of many different products involves the use of the following tools and techniques:


Sample preparation[edit]

Spectroscopic analysis[edit]

Device modification[edit]

Surface analysis[edit]

Electron microscopy[edit]

Laser signal injection microscopy (LSIM)[edit]

Semiconductor probing[edit]

Software-based fault location techniques[edit]

See also[edit]



Further reading[edit]

  • Martin, Perry L., Electronic Failure Analysis Handbook, McGraw-Hill Professional; 1st edition (February 28, 1999) ISBN 978-0-07-041044-2.
  • Microelectronics Failure Analysis, ASM International; Fifth Edition (2004) ISBN 978-0-87170-804-5
  • Lukowsky, D., Failure Analysis of Wood and Wood-Based Products, McGraw-Hill Education; 1st edition (2015) ISBN 978-0-07-183937-2.

External links[edit]