Before beginning any failure analysis, it is vital to
determine whether or not destructive testing is permitted or if the testing must
be limited to non-destructive approaches. If the failure is or may be subject to
litigation, opposing counsels must agree on this point before any sampling
begins. Witnessed testing (the presence of parties from both sides in a law
suit) may be called for.
(reference: Dr. Zee)
It is important to visit the failure site in the field if possible. All operators involved in the failure should be interviewed personally. Determine what the conditions were at the time of failure. Were there prior indications suggesting failure was about to occur? Was the failure gradual or catastrophic? Was the part protected after failure? How was the fracture handled? Did the failure involve any fire or other condition which could have altered the microstructure of the base metal or of some part of the sample such as a weld? These and all other appropriate questions should provide a basis for the investigation.
It may be important to obtain documentation on maintenance procedures during the lifetime of the equipment that failed including, if applicable, maintenance personnel, records of scheduled maintenance, and suppliers and products used. As a part of this preliminary information gathering, it is also important to obtain the physical and chemical specifications for the product which failed, against which performance may be measured.