Inspectioneering Journal

12 Things to Do After Discovering a Mechanical Failure

By Neil Burns, Associate II at Stress Engineering Services. This article appears in the January/February 2018 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.


So your pipe sprang a leak, or your drive shaft snapped, or maybe that welded joint fractured, and you need to find out why, and how to remedy it. The next steps you take could mean the difference between getting answers to those questions, and going in the wrong direction.

Before you start cutting up the leaking section of the pipe, or removing that fractured valve, or digging out that broken bolt, here are a few steps to take that will preserve key information useful for analyzing the failure, which is the basis for finding a solution to your problem. You’ve got to think of this failure as a ‘crime scene’ and yourself as part of the detective team.

1. Get the ‘forensic boys’ involved early.

Now, just like in any good detective show on TV, it’s best not to touch anything until the ‘forensics boys’ arrive – in our case, that’ll be the “Failure Analysts.” Irreversible damage can occur to the scene of the failure if things aren’t handled correctly. Ideally, get a failure analyst involved at the beginning, so they can walk you through the steps needed to take to safely extract the failed part, without damaging it further. And, it is also important to get them involved quickly, because leaving components sitting around tends to result in further damage. For example, those cut steel tubes with the leak site will corrode sitting outside, once the relative humidity gets above around 70%, which in some parts of the US is pretty much every day. Things can go from bright and shiny to not so bright and shiny very quickly (See Figure 1); and now the rust has contaminated and damaged the failed part, making analysis less conclusive.

Pitted Pipe Surface
Figure 1: The client’s image (left image) shows a pitted, yet bright pipe surface. However, the received sample (right image) has corroded since being removed from service, contaminating the surface, and making analysis of the original cause of pitting difficult. Don’t wait too long before sending the sample for analysis, and keep it safe and dry until then!

2. Take lots of photographs of the fractured/leaking/cracked part (and around it!)


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Comments and Discussion

Posted by Ibrahim Kodssi on April 30, 2018
Very useful tips specially for those who are not... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by UDAYAN PATEL on January 30, 2019
Great article Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Zamaluddin Ali on May 4, 2021
Dear Neils Burns, you must be a very wised... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

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