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Teaching Failure Analysis As An Independent Design Experience

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Crossing the Discipline Divide!

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1206.1 - 10.1206.7



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Paper Authors

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David Niebuhr

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

Session 2353

Teaching Failure Analysis as an Independent Design Experience

David V. Niebuhr

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407


Failure analysis of an engineering component is similar to building a puzzle with only some of the pieces. The engineer is left to interpret the data and make an educated conclusion. Undergraduate engineers, while enjoying the investigative experience, are somewhat intimidated by the many unknowns. In this course students select a failed engineering component and investigate the source of its demise. The evolution of the failure analysis course over 5 years is described, as well as, changes in expectations and deliverables dramatically increased the quality of work. It was found that by fostering peer review of progress during the quarter and introducing numerous case studies that student performance increased while anxiety decreased. A design component is introduced through the student’s development of the analysis process and by requiring specific actions to prevent future failures.

I. Introduction

Design as an engineering experience has become a prominent topic in recent years. At the 2004 ASEE annual conference more than 100 presentations were given that discussed some aspect of design for a complete engineering education. The importance of design in engineering curriculum is well documented and supported by Department of Education data.1 Design is commonly thought of as the creation of a widget, such as a speaker system or an airplane engine, using certain design constraints. However, design can also encompass a process to achieve a desirable end result. Process engineering is widely utilized in manufacturing and chemical engineering.2,3 In many instances designing how to make something is more challenging than the original design of the component. For example, in the pharmaceutical industry attaining stability in synthesized molecules is an immense challenge.4 A more common example, in manufacturing, is how to make a machine component economically, since in most cases several processes are possible (machining, casting, etc.). Manufacturing education commits numerous resources to ensure students are well versed in process design.5, 6

Failure analysis, as the name suggests, is the technique of determining the root cause for a failure. The failure may be as mundane as a broken tool or as catastrophic as a passenger airline crash. The process of failure analysis is much like detective work in that a large number of interrelated factors must be understood and in some cases very little evidence is present.

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright ©2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Niebuhr, D. (2005, June), Teaching Failure Analysis As An Independent Design Experience Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14982

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