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Metallographic examination is one of the most important procedures used by metallurgists in failure analysis. Typically, the light microscope (LM) is used to assess the nature of the material microstructure and its influence on the failure mechanism. Microstructural examination can be performed with the scanning electron microscope (SEM) over the same magnification range as the LM, but examination with the latter is more efficient. This article describes the major operations in the preparation of metallographic specimens, namely sectioning, mounting, grinding, polishing, and etching. The influence of microstructures on the failure of a material is discussed and examples of such work are given to illustrate the value of light microscopy. In addition, information on heat-treatment-related failures, fabrication-/machining-related failures, and service failures is provided, with examples created using light microscopy.

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