Using Failure Analysis to Make Products More Competitive

  • Seen by some as a “waste of money” failure analysis is a vital element of today’s business world. How do you count the cost of failure?
  • Finding a balance between cost, durability and performance should be an integral part of any business model.
  • Many businesses fail to appreciate the balance between price and performance which can have a major impact upon their competitiveness.

Failure analysis graphMost markets today are cost-competitive, so naturally many companies try to save costs by reducing the amount of material in their products. Reducing material saves money and normally decreases the weight of the product, which is a positive side benefit. However, when you can no longer remove any more material and you can’t invent a new material, it is often beneficial to look for improvements in other areas.

The value of failure analysis

Failure analysis has historically been used as a quantifying tool for the lifecycle of a part or machine. Failure analysis has several other uses including presenting a manufacturer with possible improvements or modifications to their CAD (Computer Aided Design) model.

In addition to its traditional uses, it is also possible to use failure analysis to improve a product, making it more competitive without adding costly or exotic materials. Some parameters to investigate during failure analysis:

  • Thickness: Failure analysis will give you consistent evaluations of your wall thicknesses, allowing you to optimize for performance and cost.

Some designers think that a thicker surface is less prone to breakage. They would be surprised to find that there are instances where the opposite is true. Failure analysis will help designers validate or overcome their intuitions.

  • Curvature: On a frying pan, the handle is often curved, and for good reason. The curve helps to spread the stress and heat while not allowing a concentration of the stresses, which may lead to damage in one concentrated spot. To define an optimal shape, failure analysis can be used as compass to point you to the perfect balance.

Finding a balance between cost, durability and performance

The key to good product design is to find a balance within the whole system. You can’t curve every part of your frying pan; not only because it won’t be cost-effective to make, but also because more complex designs can give rise to unpredictable problems. Curving the entire frying pan will not ensure it will be more competitive than another manufacturer’s pan. Failure analysis can be used to find that balance logically.

  • Assembly choice: Failure analysis also helps select between multiple assembly choices. For the frying pan, the handle can be screwed or welded to the main frying pan body, or the whole thing can be formed as one piece. Each option has its positives and negatives, and each one has an influence on price.
  • Predictive Maintenance: When a failure analysis is performed, many common failure scenarios are displayed and can be mitigated. For instance, some people use steel spoons on frying pans, which may result in scratches on the frying pan. Failure analysis allows the addition of a protective layer on the frying pan to resist scratching, and can also provide options for thickness. Performing the failure analysis again with the protective layer added will demonstrate the mitigation of the destructive use of steel spoons. As a side benefit, thanks to the additional protective layer, food won’t stick to the frying pan.

Creating additional income streams

Another example is choosing screws to attach the handle. If the pan’s body is made from a heavy material and the handle is made from a lighter material (to save on cost) and screwed on, failure analysis can demonstrate how many work cycles such a frying pan can sustain. The manufacturer can then produce easily replaced spare handles if necessary. A customer would not need to dispose of a good frying pan because of a broken handle, and the manufacturer is able to generate additional spare part income.

Failure analysis data is priceless

The frying pan is a simple example. With bigger and more intricate systems, failure analysis will provide even more benefits and opportunities to the manufacturer. Many certification procedures require a failure analysis as part of the certification process. Having a history of different types of failure analyses, along with their results and the failure mitigating improvements developed from the performed analyses, will give consistency to your products and unlock opportunities to improve the product, save cost and improve the company’s competitive position.

About: Khadija Ouajjani

Since 2012. Mechanical Design Engineer in the aeronautics industry. Mainly dealing with CAD, FEA, simulation and analysis for turbo-engines. Writing for EC since 2014. Garlic, Color Pencils, Open Systems, Coffee, Herbert, Final Fantasy VII, Writing, Tolkien, Mechanics, Deutsch, Nihongo, Herbs, Aïkido, Tea, Cinnamon, Motion, Friends.

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