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Failure Analysis … A Technology Enhanced Capstone Experience For Materials Engineers

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.285.1 - 3.285.5

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Paper Authors

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Robert Heidersbach

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David Gibbs

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Daniel Walsh

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Alan Demmons

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3264

Failure Analysis – A Technology Enhanced Capstone Experience for Materials Engineers

David Gibbs, Alan Demmons, Robert Heidersbach Ph.D., Daniel Walsh, Ph.D., College of Engineering Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo


The evolution of a highly successful curricular experiment is documented. This unique course is an ancestor to many of the “mechanical dissection” approaches to engineering education which are so very popular today. The paper highlights the value of the course as a culminating experience for the materials undergraduate. It treats the soliciting and selection of projects, the development of team approaches, the analysis of failures and the synthesis of failure hypothesis. The student’s presentation of results are discussed, both written and oral. Creation of realistic mock “court-room” and “board-room” environments is treated. The use of case-study approaches in conjunction with modern educational technology is discussed. This presentation is meant to help others develop similar courses or help others create “failure analysis” modules to use in existing courses.

I) Introduction “O Tempora! O Mores!”

The question of the character of engineering education has been examined many times in the past fifty years. The most compelling feature of these studies is the uncanny similarity of their recommendations, the remarkable constancy of what is perceived to be important in engineering education. Though each study reflects the challenges of its age, and therefore suggests stronger emphasis in one area or another, the desired threads in the engineering fabric appear to be agreed on and immutable. The specific actions suggested in the reports can often be interpreted simply as efforts to provide damping corrections to prior over or under emphases among this fixed set of characteristics.

What, then, characterizes our age and drives our approach to engineering education? The dominant forces are the globalization of the economy, the end of the cold war, the explosion of information technologies reduced funding for higher education and changing demographics. New responses include an understanding that each institution must respond to challenges in character, that is in a way that reflects its own special mission. Furthermore, there is new emphasis on outcomes of the educational process, and the use of assessment as a feedback tool to improve that process. It is then the development of a systems approach to engineering education itself, rooted in a strong awareness of customer and context.

These changes are evident and fully expressed in the approach to engineering accreditation taken by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) in their Engineering Criteria 2000. This document requires that engineering programs demonstrate that graduates possess 1) an ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science and engineering, 2) an ability to design and conduct experiments as well as to analyze and interpret data, 3) an ability to design a system, component or process to meet desired needs, 4) an ability to function in multidisciplinary teams, 5) an ability to identify, formulate and solve engineering problems, 6) an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility, 7) an ability to communicate effectively, 8) the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global/societal context, 9) a recognition of the need for and an ability to engage in life long learning, 10) a knowledge of contemporary issues, and 11) an ability to use the techniques, skills and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice. The resonance that these characteristics have with the desired attributes of an engineer published by one major consumer of engineering talent is gratifying, these attributes are a good understanding of engineering science fundamentals, a good understanding of design and manufacturing processes, a multi-disciplinary systems perspective, a basic understanding of the context in which engineering is practiced, good communication skills, high ethical standards, an ability to think both critically and creatively, independently and cooperatively, flexibility, curiosity and a desire for life long learning, and a


Heidersbach, R., & Gibbs, D., & Walsh, D., & Demmons, A. (1998, June), Failure Analysis … A Technology Enhanced Capstone Experience For Materials Engineers Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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