The Importance of a Solid Mechanics and Materials Science Engineer in Forensic Engineering

Forensic engineering oftentimes involves an analysis of why a part or piece failed. The answer can be uncovered by the use of a Solid Mechanics/Material Science Engineer. Take for example a pipe that fails and causes a building to become flooded with associated damage. Allegations range from faulty pipe quality (product liability), to poor maintenance of the piping system (owner/maintainer responsibilities), or to careless or misuse actions by contractors working close to the pipe before the leak occurred.

Enter the Material Science and Solid Mechanics Engineer. In the case of a materials failure, your best witness is the material itself. The material was there at the time of the failure and often possesses markings (witness marks) and other physical characteristics when framed in light of application, loading conditions and environment that will help explain the failure.  CED’s engineer will evaluate the failed pipe and compare the quality of material to national standards. The engineer can also inspect the pipe surfaces and determine the presence of oxidation (rust) and attempt to quantify the amount of time it took to degrade the surface of the pipe. Finally, the engineer can work with a mechanical engineer to conduct sheer testing to qualify the possibility of work environment contribution to the failure of the pipe.

What makes a Materials Science and Solids Mechanics Engineer? First and foremost, an advanced education in the study of materials, metallurgy and mechanics of materials is necessary. Second, proper tools are required to conduct forensic engineering; these include both destructive and non-destructive tools for evaluating the material. The electron microscope allows CED ‘s material science engineers to examine materials for conditions such as composition breakdown and surface cracks. Another test that is normally conducted in association with an electron microscope test is the Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy ( EDS ). The EDS works in conjunction with the electron microscope to determine the chemical species of materials. CED/ AAI material science engineers also use the Optical Microscope and the industrial X-ray machine. The Optical Microscope allows engineers to create visual displays such as court room pictures and animation effects to show composition and magnification of the surface in question. The X-ray machine is utilized to examine materials for stress cracks or potential forgery such as when a weak material is covered by a strong material. These measurement techniques, combined with an understanding of system loading allows the engineer to link microscale material behavior to microscale response leading to the failure.

When you combine the expertise of a material science engineer with the effective tools, you provide a powerful asset to conduct forensic engineering, determine the root cause of the failure and create persuasive demonstrative evidence.