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Machines and structures have failed in service without warning and with disastrous consequences. Collapse of bridges and buildings, massive splitting of ships and tankers, explosions in chemical factories, in-flight disintegration of aircraft and space vehicles, and other such major disasters have become history. The consequential damages of these mishaps are humanly unforgivable and can never be forgotten by mankind. Needless it is to emphasize the importance of the prompt investigation of these failures in order to ascertain their causes, inform the public, and to take remedial action to prevent their recurrence.

Investigation of service failures and accidents is a formidable, complex, and challenging task, very startling even to start with. In the case of aviation accidents, location of the wreckage itself is a major task, especially if the wreckage is distributed on a mountainous terrain or on the ocean floor. A wreckage distribution map and an inventory of the pieces recovered from the wreckage and their documentation go a long way in reconstruction of the scene just prior to the mishap. The analytical part of the investigation of the damaged structure and its components is a multidisciplinary activity. It demands tremendous responsibility and coordination on the part of the analyst and a thorough knowledge of materials science supplemented with appreciation and application of related engineering disciplines.

Failures are a fact of life. A failure-free system is more a myth than a reality. The engineering profession and the industries aim at design and manufacture of products with the probability of service failure at the absolute minimum. Realizing the significance of failures, especially in aerospace systems, National Aerospace Laboratories nurtured the failure analysis activity from its inception. The Failure Analysis and Accident Investigation Group in the Materials Science Division of this laboratory has been very active in this field for over four decades. Several hundred investigations have been carried out by this group for various organizations, industries, and institutions and remedial actions suggested. The members of this group have assisted in various commissions of inquiry appointed by the government for investigating failures and accidents that took place in India and elsewhere. The feedback received from the clientele has been very satisfying.

Failure Analysis of Engineering Structures: Methodology and Case Histories, by these scientists, is a culmination of years of their experience in the field. The authors have meticulously compiled lots of information on the subject. Chapters in the book cover, inter alia, the common causes of failures with numerous examples; methodology of failure analysis, including some advanced techniques; various mechanisms of failures; and characteristic macroscopic and microscopic features on failed components, which provide significant clues to their causes. Deliberate damage to structures caused by the use of explosives today is a global threat. The authors have provided useful information on the detection and identification of explosive damages. Treatment of this topic with a detailed description of aircraft accidents due to explosive sabotage is exemplary. The authors’ sharing of their personal experiences of the investigation of the major aircraft accident to the Boeing 747 aircraft Kanishka of Air India over the Atlantic Ocean is commendable. Keeping in mind that failures and accidents often lead to serious litigations, the authors have also provided a chapter on forensic failure analysis.

Service failure is the ultimate test for the integrity of a machine, though a very expensive and destructive test. It is now a well-known adage that one learns more from failures than from successes. A detailed and faithful account of service failures and accidents and their in-depth analysis provide very valuable lessons for future designers, manufacturers, users, and maintenance personnel. Failure awareness, anticipation of failures and proactive failure analysis form a good part of successful engineering. It is in this context that the study of case histories of failures assume great importance. The authors of this book have thoughtfully added a complete section on case histories.

This book is a good archive of information for failure analysts, practicing engineers, and students of engineering. I compliment the authors for this effort.

B.R. Pai
Director
National Aerospace Laboratories
Bangalore, India
October, 2004

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