Prevention and Cure: How Failure Analysis Can Identify Manufacturing Issues Before They Start

Scientist Performing Failure AnalysisIt’s happened to you: you go to your favorite restaurant for your favorite meal. The food comes and something is just not right. The fries are not as crispy, or your burger is not as juicy.

We’re often unaware of how much of a difference chemistry makes in the food we eat, the clothes we wear and even the electronics that are ubiquitous in our lives. A small tweak in the chemical makeup of a product can have big consequences: your customers may become dissatisfied with your products, even if the change is due to a microscopic flaw.

Even subtle changes in your products can mean the difference between losing a customer and retaining one. In addition, significant problems, such as purity in pharmaceuticals or malfunctioning computer parts, are more than a nuisance – they can have serious effects on both the consumer and the company.

Failure Analysis: Protecting You, Protecting Your Company

When companies have issues with their products, production lines or damage to other equipment, they turn to the business of failure analysis. Everything from materials to hardware can fail, and without failure analysis – which determines the cause of the problem – time and money are wasted.

Innovatech Labs uses failure analysis to troubleshoot a variety of problems for our clients. For example, we were once approached by a company whose cooking oil was not reacting as it had in the past. This created problems with their product and with their customers.

Using gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC/MS), we analyzed samples of both oils. The original oil had a chemical composition that was completely different from the new batch. Knowing that it would affect the food preparation process, our client used failure analysis to make an informed decision for their company.

How to Bag New Customers: Failure Analysis as an Investigation Tool

You are halfway up your driveway with a sack of groceries. You can feel the bag starting to rip and you know it’s a game of beat-the-clock. Two more steps and you have sidewalk marinara. Bag wins, dinner loses.

Concerned about their customers and curious about why their competitor’s bags made it from trunk to table, our client used failure analysis to determine how their competitor’s grocery bags were made. Using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR Analysis), digital imaging, and attenuated total reflection (ATR) we able to analyze the various layers of the bag, their thickness, and determine their material. With the newfound knowledge gained from failure analysis, our client was able make a decision regarding their bag purchases.

A Pound of Cure: Failure Analysis as Prevention

On ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s what a client of ours knew when he brought a pharmaceutical product to us for testing. Fearing that some of the solvent (ethanol) used during manufacturing was present in the finished product, we were asked to make a determination.

Using headspace analysis and gas chromatography mass spectrometry, we were able to confirm that ethanol was present and quantified the amount. With this failure analysis testing, our client had the necessary data regarding the powdered drug.

What industry application could failure analysis help you with? Can GC/MS, FTIR, Auger Electron Spectroscopy or ESCA help you prevent a problem?

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