Failure Analysis Testing

When a product or device fails, you need to know why. Root cause failure analysis helps a business get to the source of a product failure. More importantly, it provides the manufacturer with the information needed to address and correct the issue causing the failure.

Root cause failure analysis is usually a multidisciplinary process. The tools NTS uses during an analysis include visual inspections, metallographic, environmental and chemical analysis and simulation tests. The specific tests utilized depend on the type of product and the failure mode.

Why do Failure Analysis Testing?

There are many reasons to conduct failure analysis testing, including:

  • Determining corrective actions for product failures
  • Improving manufacturing processes and efficiencies
  • Eliminating the risk of physical harm from product failures
  • Reducing financial costs associated with product failure / recalls
  • Meeting regulatory standards required for product sales or exports
  • Assigning liability for product failures in a legal setting

Root cause failure examinations are designed to determine the cause of the failure and the corrective actions needed to prevent it. However, product failure can be a complicated process. In our experience, device failure is rarely due to a single event.

The physical signs of failure, such as a cracked metal component or a malfunctioning electronic device, are the most obvious. However these signs are often little more than symptoms of failure. NTS looks for the root cause of the failure.

Potential causes of a device failure may include:

  • Product design
  • Manufacturing processes
  • Contamination of the source materials
  • Product packaging
  • Product storage
  • Improper Handling

Determining the root cause of a failure is a three-part process.

Step 1: Data Collection

The first step in a root cause failure analysis is data collection. During this step, NTS will collect information about how the device failed and when it occurred. We will also work with you to determine your goals for the failure analysis examination, determine how the part should operate, and consult with additional subject matter experts, if needed.

The type and breadth of questions we ask during this step can be surprising to an organization that has not performed failure analysis previously. Some of the information important to collect during this phase includes:

  • What are the steps of the manufacturing process?
  • What is involved in each process step?
  • What are all of the components in the device?
  • What are the specific component’s purposes?
  • What are the ways in which each of these components could fail?
  • How severe is the impact of these potential failures?
  • What types of device failures are actually occurring?
  • At what point does a failure affect the device’s function?
  • What is the likelihood device failures are noticed before they reach the consumer?
  • What is the history of the failed unit?
  • What is the occurrence of failures?

 

During this phase, we will conduct tests on the product being analyzed. It is common to test a representative sample of failed devices as well as those that are working properly. This can help to determine what components are failing and when the failure occurs.

Whenever possible, we prefer non-destructive tests in the failure analysis testing. This tends to provide the most accurate data and is more economically efficient for the customer. Sometimes the failure analysis requires cross-sections of the material or perform thermal testing. In these cases, we perform these tests later in the data collection process.

Step 2: Analyze Data Collected to Determine Root Cause Failure

The next step in the failure analysis process is to determine the root cause of the failure. Device failure is rarely the result of a single incident. Our experience has shown there are multiple inputs into even a “simple” failure. This indicates there are often different ways to prevent the failure in the future.

Consider this example of an electronic device failure. An organization has received customer complaints of a device short circuiting periodically and contracts with NTS to conduct a root cause failure analysis. Electronic failure analysis tests show the component short circuits because depending on where the metal in the part is located the metal used is of the wrong hardness.

Step 3: Determining Corrective Actions

For most organizations, determining corrective actions is the most important part of a root cause failure analysis. When you use NTS for root cause failure analysis, you will receive a comprehensive report on both the causes and effects of device failure. NTS may also provide recommendations for correcting problems.

Many of the recommendations for correcting a problem are small changes that can have a significant impact. Small changes in how source materials and product components are tested, treated and stored can significantly reduce device failure.

In other cases, we find that failure occurs when customers use a device for too long or in the wrong operating conditions. In these cases, our recommendations might include additional product education for marketing and sales staff. These employees can then provide this information to customers. This prevents device failures from improper use or application.

We can also help you to determine whether corrective action is necessary. Some organizations may decide the economic costs of correcting rare product failure is unnecessary. If device failure is rare and has minimal consequences, replacing failed components may be more cost effective than changing the manufacturing process. Failure analysis testing can provide you with knowledge needed to make an informed decision.

Failure Analysis Tests

Root cause failure analysis uses a variety of tests to determine the true source of a product failure. These tests are divided into two categories: non-destructive tests, which keep a product intact; and destructive tests, which require the product to be altered in order to examine cross-sections or thermal behavior.

NTS begins its analysis with non-destructive analysis (NDA) as these tests are intended to prevent further damage to the product. Starting with NDA is generally more cost-effective. This is also the preferred method to preserve evidence of the failure mode.

Sample Testing Procedures Conducted by NTS Laboratories

Test Description Type (NDA / DPA)
Visual Examination Non-Destructive
Optical Microscopy Non-Destructive
Scanning Acoustic Microscopy Non-Destructive
2D / 3D X-Ray Radiography Non-Destructive
X-Ray Flourescence Spectroscopy Non-Destructive
Curve Trace / Electrical Inspection Non-Destructive
Contamination Analysis Non-Destructive
Thermal Analysis Destructive
Destructive Physical Analysis (DPA) Destructive
Cross-section Analysis Destructive

All of the NTS laboratories are equipped for a wide range of test capabilities and are Internationally Accredited for both non-destructive testing methods like X-rays and microscopy, and destructive tests like contamination analysis and thermal analysis.

Failure Analysis Services

Printed Circuit Board Failure Analysis

Most electronics manufactured today rely on printed circuit boards (PCB). From children’s toys to advanced computers, PCB’s are critical for many electronics. However, many printed circuit boards fail during the manufacturing process.

NTS’s PCB failure analysis can help an organization determine why its circuit boards are failing and how to resolve the issue. Root cause failure testing for circuit boards is a holistic process that can help you find more answers than a simple spot check.

We work with a variety of different printed circuit boards. In the past, NTS has performed root cause failure examinations on single-sided, double-sided, multi-layer circuit boards, flex, and high frequency/PTFE boards including buries and blind via holes structures.

Some of the tests that we use during a PCB failure examination include:

  • Cross-section analysis
  • Solderability testing
  • PCB contamination testing
  • X-ray Inspection

NTS’s failure analysis goes beyond simply identifying the cause of the problem. We can help you find ways to improve the product and correct faults during the PCB manufacturing process.

Electronic Component Failure Analysis

Electronic components and hardware failure can occur during many phases of a product’s lifecycle. Along with problems during the product design and manufacturing stage, electronic components can fail because of issues with:

  • Storage
  • Packaging
  • Installation
  • Operation
  • Maintenance

We use both non-destructive and destructive tests to determine the root cause of electronic component failures. Our electronic components technicians work with a wide variety of tools and software to choose the right test techniques for your products.

NTS failure analysis examinations of electronic components often use signal generators, sniffers and vector signal analyzers. We also use microscopy, X-ray, and contamination analysis where necessary. NTS testers can also test for hardware failure during installation and operation using a variety of languages and operating platforms.

Electronic Device Failure Analysis

Determining the root cause of electronic device failure is often more difficult than determining root cause failure for other objects. Interactions between software and hardware, it’s important to find a laboratory that is skilled in electronic device failure analysis.

NTS laboratories are equipped to diagnose both software and hardware problems that occur during electronic device failure. We consider ourselves tool agnostic. That means that we’ll select the tools and tests that are suitable for analyzing your specific device.

Our staff is experienced in developing electronic device tests in C/C++, Java and Python, among other languages. We also use a wide range of electrical device tools such as IBM Rational Robot, Borland Silk Test and National Instruments’ LabView. Our website on hardware and software testing has more information about NTS laboratories’ capacity in this area.

We go beyond simply meeting the standards for electronic hardware failure testing. NTS laboratories are sought out to help create the best practices for it. NTS has worked closely with several standards groups to develop failure analysis tools for electronic components

Metal Failure Analysis

Metal failure can have a big impact on products across the supply chain. From contamination and corrosion that causes medical equipment to fail to stress failures that affect structural integrity, metal failure can have major consequences. It’s estimated metal corrosion alone accounts for nearly $300 billion in economic losses each year.

NTS’s root cause failure testing for metals can help your organization determine why metal components are failing and how to fix the issue. We provide metal testing for clients in a wide variety of industries, including:

  • Aerospace
  • Defense
  • Telecommunications
  • Consumer products

Failure Analysis is a complex process that relies on a variety of techniques. Our state-of-the-art data acquisition tools help us determine the cause of metal failure quickly and help you determine solutions to fix the problem. We regularly perform corrosion studies, impact tests and fatigue testing on metal components. NTS can also create custom testing chambers and fixtures for failure testing of oversized metal components.

NTS is experienced in developing custom testing programs that comply with both national and international certification standards. NTS labs are ISO-17025 accredited for root cause failure testing of metal products.

Plastic / Composite Failure Analysis

Plastics can fail in many different ways. Plastic products can fail from stress fractures, fatigue, material degradation and contamination. Plastic products can also fail in less-serious ways: discoloration and distortion can both affect the integrity of plastic products. Determining the exact cause of plastic failure requires a range of tests and a broad knowledge of polymers.

Root cause testing for plastic failures follows a similar process to that used for metal failure analysis. Plastic failure analysis can be more complex, because plastics often contain additives like plasticizers, colorants and reinforcing fillers. As a result, failure testing for plastic products often requires specialized testing of the molecular and chemical structures in plastics.

NTS’s labs are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for plastic failure analysis. We use non-destructive testing techniques like microscopy and spectroscopic analysis wherever possible.

NTS provides root cause failure analysis for plastic consumer goods as well as industrial components for the aerospace and defense industries. Whether the failure occurs in manufacturing or after production, we focus on identifying the cause of the failure quickly and developing a solution to prevent further product failures.

Contamination Analysis

If there are contaminants in the supply chain, it is essential to control them quickly. However, identifying contaminants can be a time-consuming process that requires major resources.

NTS lab’s contamination analysis and identification can help you find contamination that leads to product failure. The process we use to identify contaminants depends on the product, the type of contamination and the client’s goals.

Types of contamination analysis we typically conduct include:

  • Identifying the type and source of foreign particles in a product
  • Determining the level at which a contaminant affects product integrity
  • Tracing the source of contamination and developing corrective plans

As contamination is often a multi-faceted problem, we use a multi-disciplinary approach to our contamination analysis.

NTS is an accredited failure analysis specialist. We hold ISO 17025 and A2LA accreditations specifically for Root Cause Failure Analysis. This means that our laboratories meet high standards for testing and calibration, and the tests we conduct are accepted by a wide variety of suppliers and regulatory authorities.

Contact us today to help with your failure analysis testing needs.