Failure Analysis of Structural Systems and Components
Since 1947, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has been helping industry and government avoid the shutdowns and hazards associated with equipment and component failures. Using systematic failure analysis, SwRI isolates the causes of catastrophic failures and makes recommendations to prevent costly recurrences. Because SwRI neither manufactures nor endorses industrial products, investigations are impartial and unbiased, and client confidentiality is protected. Industries in which the Institute has specialized failure analysis expertise include:
With 11 technical divisions and hundreds of fully equipped laboratories, SwRI uses a multidisciplinary approach to solve problems for major industries and small businesses alike.
Systematic Failure Analysis
SwRI investigators use systematic failure analysis to help industry and government:
Fossil fuel, nuclear, and combined-cycle power companies use materials and structures under demanding environmental conditions for long periods of time. As the years of service increase, the possibility of failure grows.
SwRI has extensive experience conducting power plant investigations. Programs range from identifying the cause of boiler tube, complex compressor, and turbine component failures, to investigating radioactive components such as vent lines, pipes, and valves. This experience and an in-house radioactive materials laboratory make SwRI a leader in power industry failure analysis.
Investigation of failed, cracked, and damaged aerospace structures is crucial to the continued safe operation of the nation's aging fleet of civilian and military aircraft. Institute staff members are experts in identifying fatigue, a major failure mechanism in aircraft materials, and are schooled in manufacturing practices and codes relevant to military and commercial aircraft. SwRI methods allow early identification of cracking to provide a greater margin of safety and more accurately predict service life. Investigations have been conducted on commercial and military aircraft, including the C-5, F-5, F-16, F-111, T-37, and T-38. Components examined include forged bulkheads, landing gear, windshields, wing spars, spoilers, actuators, and engine turbine blades.
Oil, Gas, and Chemical Industries
Producing, refining, and processing oil, gas, and chemical products degrade equipment that must operate in highly corrosive environments. Failure mechanisms include stress corrosion cracking, hydrogen sulfide attack, erosion-corrosion, fatigue, caustic attack, acid pitting, and hydrogen embrittlement. In addition to a laboratory dedicated to corrosion tests, SwRI has proven expertise in identifying and solving problems in the field. Past investigations have identified failures in rupture disks, heat exchangers, boiler tubes, drill collars, oil well tubing, pressure vessels, and steel and polymer pipelines for gas and liquids.
Manufacturing and Transportation
The automobile, textile, and shipping industries fabricate products using both conventional and advanced manufacturing technologies. Failures can occur during manufacturing or while the product is in service. SwRI has conducted failure investigations for numerous product support and manufacturing operations, studying a wide variety of components and equipment, such as springs, pistons, forged parts, and conveyor systems.
Institute failure analysts investigate ways to improve product life with the latest technological developments. Examples include fuels and lubricants research and new coatings for improved lubrication and reduced wear. SwRI experts also refine fabrication practices, ranging from welding techniques for submersible pressure vessels to the superplastic forming of parts.
Advances in medical equipment and biomedical technology have generated a variety of uses for common materials and new, biocompatible materials for equipment and implanted devices. The complex interactions of stress, friction, wear, and chemical attack that occur in the human body can cause material-related failure. Institute researchers investigate failure mechanisms in biomedical implants and medical equipment, such as wear and delamination in orthopedic service. In addition, the material, mechanical, and chemical properties of devices are characterized following long-term service.
The Institute's modern laboratories are equipped to handle all aspects of failure analysis.
Facilities and laboratories are augmented by a network of computerized data acquisition and analysis equipment and a technical library containing more than 44,000 books and 55,000 volumes of periodicals.
The Institute models failure mechanisms, evaluates new designs, and assesses the effects of failure on operating systems using extensive analytical capabilities. To perform in-depth studies, SwRI applies:
This brochure was published in June 2000. For more information about failure analysis, contact Richard A. Page, Ph.D., Phone (210) 522-3252, or N. Sastry Cheruvu, Ph.D., Phone (210) 522-2492, Mechanical Engineering Division, Southwest Research Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas 78228-0510, Phone (210) 522-3252, Fax (210) 522-6220.