1. Questions… Why do we ask them all the time?

Because we want to know the truth.

But, quite often, we prefer to be self-deceived, especially in times of crises, when truth of reality confronts our beliefs. Then we stop asking questions.

“Humanness came of age when man asked the first question. Social stagnation results not from lack of answers but from absence of the impulse to ask questions,” Eric Hoffer.


2. Is Failure Investigation (FI) immune against deception?

No. Humans remain humans regardless of their activity or position.

Industry thoughts from Ivanov Consulting Dr Vladimir Ivanov.

Besides, there is always a place for a paradox originally posed by Roman poet Juvenal and literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

This is usually rendered as “Who watches the watchmen?”, “solution” of which known as ‘infinite regress.’


3. What is infinite regress?

Infinite regress is an attempt to solve a problem via re-introducing the same problem in the proposed solution. If one continues along the same lines, the initial problem will recur infinitely and will never be solved.


4. When infinite regress could be associated with FI?

When FI has not found root causes.


5. Why would FI not find root causes?

Because of a fundamental deception in FI.


6. What is fundamental deception in FI?

It is a belief that technological cause of failure is the root cause. Whereas, in reality, causal nexus of any failure mechanism is:

  1. Specific environment (ideological, political, corporative, cultural, social, religious, etc.) moulds corresponding imperative,
  2. Under imperative’s pressure and constraints, humans make mistakes, and
  3. Human’s mistakes lead to technological (physical, mechanical, chemical, humanities, etc.) causes of failure.

Therefore, technological cause of failure, albeit its identification solves specific technical problem, is always the last link in causal nexus and, thus, never the root cause, and will recur infinitely in ever modified versions.


7. Mistakes… Aren’t they avoidable?

No. Oddly enough, mistakes are a source of creativity and innovation – after all, mistakes of the DNA copying system are responsible for the genetic evolution.

On the other hand, reiteration of the same mistake is stupidity, whereas ability to learn from the failures has been, is, and always will be a driving force of humankind’s cultural evolution, which, by the way, progresses much faster than the genetic one.


8. What are subjects of FI?

All that fail prematurely (realm of materials) or do not accomplish the purpose (realm of ideas).


9. What categories of mistakes are responsible for premature failure of a component?

There are only three categories of probable mistakes – poor design, cheap manufacturing, and abusive service.

Unfortunately, there are multitudes of possible causes in each category. In addition, modern components are designed and manufactured (aka planned obsolescence), and used to their ever shortening limits in order to obey 2G imperatives (greed and growth – Holy Pillars of capitalism), which results in simultaneous race of several failure mechanisms, masking each other and, quite often, making definite identification of component’s cause of failure rather impossible.


10. How do we know that performed FI is not a deception?

By testing its findings in real environment (unfortunately, is rarely practical), or by independent professional reviewing (auditing).


11. What constitutes professional FI of material component?

The necessary condition for the professional FI is ability to comprehend fundamentals of materials’ Virtuous Spiral “Processing-Structure-Properties-Processing-…”, and ability to “read” fracture surfaces and micro-structures. In a certain sense, this knowledge of Research, Science and Technology (RST), or ‘knowing that’, is like a horizontal landscape – important, but not good enough.

What makes the professional FI sufficient and, thus, successful, is ‘knowing-how’ to implement this knowledge and to avoid the most common deceptions and traps. In a certain sense, ‘knowing how’ is like a vertical and endless process of refinement – i.e., knowing how to do something, how to do it well, how to do it brilliantly, and so on.


12. What are the most common deceptions in FI?

The methodology of deception in Materials Science is the same as in politics – take some seemingly truthful, but auxiliary or inessential fact, and spread it over a big fat lie; some of them are:

  • Chemical composition within specification suffices high material’s quality (false; primary microstructure is necessary)
  • Hardness within specification suffices high quality of heat treatment (false; secondary microstructure is necessary)
  • High pouring temperature is always detrimental to Al alloys (not always – fine homogenous microstructure can overpower negative effect of gas porosity for a given conditions)
  • Hypoeutectic Al alloys are not subjected to liquation (but, they are), and more

13. What are the most common traps in FI?

  • Omniscience Trap: self-serving bias “Been there – seen it all” ignores fundamental principle of FI – each failure is unique
  • Convenience Trap: focusing on one convenient cause and ignoring all contradicting exceptions
  • Ignorance Trap: not understanding the problem, or not seeing the whole picture
  • Moral Trap: “satisfying” a customer, or QED (quod erat demonstrandum), and more


14. How to avoid FI traps?

  • Approach each FI as unique one
  • Take your time to learn about the component, the machine, the system, the process – i.e., to see the whole picture
  • Take your time to consider all possible answers to questions “What?”, “How?” and “Why?”
  • Take your time to analyse and explain all features and all test results without exceptions
  • Above all – always gaze into the root


15. What can be done to make life better?

  • Think for yourself – “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who sad it, even if I have sad it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense” (Buddha)
  • And, do what is right


16. Will it make our life easier?

Certainly, not. But,

“it is better to be unsatisfied human than satisfied pig,” Aristotle.


The New Zealand Welding Centre provides a comprehensive material and weld failure investigation service for our members and industry stakeholders also drawing on the services of external consultants such as metallurgist Dr Vladimir Ivanov.