5 Engineering Bodges that Ended in Disaster

  • What follows are revelations of engineering bodges that contributed to infamous disasters.
  • We’ll take a detailed look at some of the mechanical engineering mistakes that resulted in loss of life or injury.
  • Learn some details on the results of investigations and recommendations for improvements in safety.

Seriously, you won’t believe some of these mechanical engineering bodges. You’ll be intrigued, flabbergasted and horrified in equal measures at these bodges that ended in catastrophe.

titanic engineering bodges1. Titanic (1912)

Everyone knows that the maiden voyage of the Titanic didn’t go quite as planned.

The captain was blamed for poor navigation and traveling at a speed too high for the treacherous seas (under pressure to make the trans-Atlantic crossing as quickly as possible). Also, there weren’t enough lifeboats to go around causing significant loss of life. However, new evidence has come to light in recent years that points the finger at some pretty serious mechanical engineering bodges.

Firstly, 48 rivets from the hull of the Titanic were recently recovered from the wreck. After testing, it was discovered that the rivets were made of low-quality iron, meaning they would have fallen apart upon impact. When you consider that there were over 3 million rivets that held the ship together, this was a pretty monumental engineering failure. It’s believed that the contractors went for the inferior iron as it was cheaper and more plentiful.

Secondly, the 16 major watertight compartments that made up the keel of the ship, weren’t correctly designed. Instead of being completely sealed around the edges, they were only sealed horizontally, meaning water could rise up through the ceiling. This engineering bodge potentially made the difference between the ship sinking or staying afloat until assistance could arrive.

2. Challenger disaster (1986)

A fire engulfed the challenger just 73 seconds after blast off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, causing a fatal explosion that killed all 7 crew members. It shocked onlookers and people at home watching it on the evening news. Although NASA had lost astronauts in prior missions, this was the first time they had lost an entire rocket and crew. It changed the way NASA does things to this day.

The cause of the fire was a leaky O-ring seal on one of the rocket boosters, meaning hot gas escaped, damaging surrounding equipment. Engineering reports prior to the launch had raised concerns about the O-ring and its weakness in cold temperatures. The day of the launch saw temperatures of 36oF (2oC), which contributed to the failure.

Engineering bodges can unfortunately be fatal. As a result of this one, NASA reviewed their engineering designs, and every single component was re-certified and tested. Also, the decision-making process for space shuttle launches was overhauled, ensuring that critical advice is taken into account.

ford pinto engineering bodges3. Ford Pinto (1971-76)

When it comes to engineering bodges, the Pinto proved to be a disaster for Ford that ended up with them doing a mass recall, but not until serious injuries and even deaths had occurred. The Ford Pinto is a tale of both bad engineering and corporate greed that led to unnecessary suffering.

Flaws in the engineering were highlighted early on. During crash testing at low speeds, the fuel lines would tear away from the tank itself, causing fuel to leak out. Also, bolts holding brackets near the rear axle were prone to puncturing the tank. These flaws increased the chances of a catastrophic explosion in the event of an accident.

engineering bodges

The planned release of the Pinto was at the height of the Japanese car boom, and Ford needed to release attractive small cars to compete. Ford did a cost-benefit analysis to weigh up the cost of changing the design and fixing production against the cost of potential lawsuits and decided to go ahead with production.

It was a public relations disaster for Ford as all Pintos were recalled and safety-upgraded in 1978, seriously damaging their reputation.

4. Qinghe Special Steel Corporation disaster (2007)

32 people died when a ladle transporting molten steel came loose from an overhead rail in a Chinese steel factory. The Chinese authorities ordered an immediate investigation. The report revealed that a standard hoist had been used to lift the ladle, rather than a specialised one designed to cope with the demands of steel manufacture.

The report also concluded that the company had ignored safety considerations by maintaining a chaotic workplace. They also said that the company had failed to keep up with growing demand for steel, and had cut corners with safety to try and increase production.

5. Columbia disaster (2003)

Once again, NASA’s engineering protocols came under scrutiny after the Columbia disintegrated upon its return to Earth’s atmosphere. A consequent investigation found that a piece of foam had become detached from the shuttle’s fuel tank, catastrophically damaging the wing.

columbia debris engineering bodges
Debris from Columbia arranged on a grid. This was an attempt to reconstruct the bottom of the orbiter as part of the investigation into the catastrophe.

The report also revealed that NASA had been aware of the issue with the foam breaking off for many years, but had failed to act on it.

As a result, 7 crew members lost their lives. The board was scathing in its report on the culture of NASA at the time saying there was a “reliance on past success as a substitute for sound engineering practices”.



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