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Keith Wagner 20 min read

Failure Analysis as Part of the Product Lifecycle


Keith Wagner

In the high-stakes environment of product development and operations, a small defect or flaw can easily escalate into an organizational crisis if potential failures aren’t caught early. How can you stop small setbacks in product R&D and deployment from becoming major incidents that affect the reputation and future of your organization?

Failure analysis plays a key role in preventing minor errors from escalating and impeding your product and its deployment. It can help your organization understand why a failure occurred and give you the information you need to prevent it from happening again. Routine failure analysis testing can also help your organization ideate better versions of your product so it’s safer and more dependable for end-users.

In the case of a product failure, legal action may be pursued, and failure analysis testing will be a critical part of your organization’s defense. It can determine fault through root cause analysis testing and failure analysis experts can provide key testimony that helps jurors and the judge understand complex scientific findings.

Let’s look deeper at how you can leverage scientific expertise to make failure analysis testing an integral part of your product lifecycle.

The Role of Failure Analysis in Product Development

Failure analysis proactively and reactively identifies vulnerabilities in product materials, giving manufacturers specific points of weakness to improve upon. Scientists employ various techniques, from environmental analysis to microscopy, to identify why a failure occurred. 

Failure analysis throughout product development helps ensure product safety for consumers by identifying defects early and preventing potential failures from occurring in the future. Proactive failure analysis also helps your organization ensure regulatory compliance and prevent costly product recalls and reputational harm due to post-market product failure. 

Consider the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 lithium battery explosions in 2016. The batteries in the phone frequently became too hot and caught fire. Citing flaws in battery design and manufacturing, Samsung lost $5.3 billion to recalls alone and the erosion of consumers' trust.

“Technology innovation is important to Samsung, but our customer’s safety is more important. We want to reinstate trust in the brand."

- DJ Koh, Former Samsung CEO

Integrating Failure Analysis Into a Product Lifecycle

There are several ways manufacturers can make failure analysis a part of their early research and product development in effort to prevent future failure. Working with scientific experts who are well-versed in subjects like metallurgy and materials analysis, manufacturers and their consulting partners can employ these techniques.

  • Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) allows you to identify potential failure pathways and assess their impacts early in research and product development. You can mitigate issues and triage possible failures based on severity and likelihood.

  • Design for Reliability (DfR) allows you to assess whether the materials your product uses are capable of meeting or exceeding their expected lifetimes under normal usage conditions.

  • Root Cause Analysis (RCA) goes a step beyond failure analysis testing, finding the underlying cause of failure on a fundamental level to prevent similar failures from happening in the future.

Proactive testing of potential failures is a key part of the iterative design process, with each failure analysis giving you feedback on how to improve. Identification of potential failure pathways, continuous monitoring for issues, and stress testing are methods to gain valuable insight into how to make a better product.

Identifying High-Quality Materials

One of the most critical strategies for manufacturers to enhance the resilience and reliability of their products involves selecting superior-quality materials. High-quality materials are more durable, reliable, and safe, driving down costs in the long run and increasing consumer satisfaction with your final product.

However, the only way to know if your materials are right for your product is to test them regularly. Rigorous material testing is an important part of failure analysis and can provide insights into the lifespan of your product and the environmental conditions it will withstand.

Considering Environmental Factors

Simulating environmental conditions during failure analysis is helpful for understanding specific failure pathways you may not see in a controlled environment. Your product may withstand rigorous stress testing under controlled conditions.

However, environmental testing can simulate how the materials and design of your product will hold up in its daily environment. With this knowledge, you can create a product that’s made to last.

Tools and Techniques in Failure Analysis

There are several advanced laboratory techniques scientists can use when working to identify potential failures. Non-destructive testing (NDT) allows you to gather as much information about the failure mechanism, site, and the cause of failure without damaging the product.

While visual inspection serves as an effective preliminary method for gathering data on failure characteristics, advanced non-destructive testing (NDT) techniques offer more comprehensive insights, including:

Other microscopic and spectroscopic analysis techniques like scanning electron microscopy and proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry are also used during failure analysis testing. These techniques can help manufacturers understand material and structural failures at a micro-level.

Leveraging Expertise in Failure Analysis

Many failure analysis tests require advanced equipment and laboratory techniques that you may not have the in-house capabilities for. When you consult with scientific experts as part of your failure analysis testing, you gain access to industry-specific professionals and advanced laboratory capabilities.

As a result, you’re more likely to successfully defend yourself in court, avoid reputational damage, and avoid future product failures. Acting swiftly and early is also key when looking for an expert consulting partner to work with for failure analysis testing.

The earlier you act, the more likely it is that:

  • You can connect with the experts you need during the product’s lifecycle

  • Scientists can find helpful information that may be critical to litigation during discovery, like viable controls and time-critical samples

  • You can prevent potential failures if you’re conducting failure analysis during product R&D

RJ Lee Group takes an integrated approach to failure analysis in research and product development helping their clients understand potential failure pathways and discover solutions. The scientists at RJ Lee Group are industry experts who collaborate with your in-house team to solve problems quickly throughout the product lifecycle.

Confidently Leverage Failure Analysis Testing as Part of Your Product Lifecycle

The findings that arise from rigorous failure analysis testing drive innovation, safety, and competitiveness by pushing your product to be the best it can be.

Failure analysis testing is a tool for continuous improvement in every research and product development process. Advanced laboratory techniques like NDT, microscopy, and spectroscopy allow you to understand failure pathways in intricate detail.

When you partner with RJ Lee Group, we work with you to make failure analysis testing an integral part of your early research and product development processes. Schedule a meeting with an RJ Lee Group expert today to discuss our failure analysis testing capabilities.

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