Every once in a while, I am forcefully reminded that most people in manufacturing have narrow specialties. Of course, this includes failure analysis! This can be a problem when stepping outside of our usual duties.

As a consultant, people call when they have problems that they can’t solve on their own. But I also have a test lab so that my consulting opinions are based on data. Many people see the equipment and think “Test Lab.” This is fine, if you want data and you know what data you need. But most of the time, the test methods that can answer such questions as “Is my problem due to a change in the material or a change in my process?” are not easy to sort out. If you are asking a lab for help, you may think you know what to ask for.

Having a problem with formability of sheet metal? Ask for a composition check and a hardness test.

Having a problem with cracking of field returns? Ask for a composition check and a hardness test.

Having a corrosion or environmental deterioration issue? Ask for a composition analysis.

Because, for the lay person, we assume that the soup is defined by the ingredients. At a simplistic level, this is not wrong. But if you thin slice and saute your mushrooms in olive oil with pressed garlic, and then slowly stir in flour and then milk to make your cream of mushroom soup, you will have a totally different result than throwing the mushrooms into a pot of hot milk with a whole clove of garlic, some flour and onion slices. Same ingredients … totally different outcome.

Even if you don’t want a full failure analysis, making sure the lab knows the background and specifics for your request increases your chances of getting useful information. Not telling the lab why you are having them do the work leads them to believe that you are doing a certification check for composition. That’s like expecting to make cream of mushroom soup from the ingredient list when you’ve never learned how to boil water.