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Many companies conduct only metallurgical evaluations in the wake of failures, discovering nothing more than the physical mechanism by which the failure occurred. The origin of failures, however, is often complex, involving not only physical mechanisms, but also human behavior and latent factors. Failures may also involve multiple parts, entire machines, or processes of any size and shape. The chapter examines the unique aspects of many failures and explains how they can sometimes be traced to systemic issues. It also covers the reasons why products fail, including improper service or operation, improper maintenance, improper testing, assembly errors, fabrication or manufacturing errors, and design errors. The case of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse is presented to illustrate the consequence of overlooked factors, in this case, wind dynamics, and the importance of identifying root causes to prevent repeat failures.

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