Intertek Allentown, a member of Intertek’s global Total Quality Assurance network, is one of more than 1,000 laboratories and offices and over 46,000 people in more than 100 countries. The company delivers innovative and bespoke Assurance, Testing, Inspection, and Certification solutions for its customers’ operations and supply chains. MDB spoke to Paula McDaniel, PhD, Senior scientist and Business Development Director, Intertek Allentown, to find out more about addressing material failure and prevention.

Paula McDaniel, PhD, Senior scientist and Business Development Director, Intertek Allentown

MDB: When do failures occur and what causes them?

Paula McDaniel: We can see failures occur at every stage in a products lifecycle — design, manufacturing, packaging, storage/handling, and end use of the product. These failures can be caused by poor selection of raw materials and components during the design phase, contamination, or compatibility issues during the manufacturing process, product exposure to improper storage and handling conditions, as well as improper use of the product by the end user.

MDB: What is the first step in establishing a root cause?

McDaniel: It usually begins with lots of questions! Our material scientists and failure analysis experts will dig deep into the conditions and details surrounding the product’s failure point to identify sources of failure. They will key in on potential variations in raw materials, processing conditions, chemical exposure, contaminate sources, and environmental exposures to compile a comprehensive analytical testing program to pinpoint the failure source.

MDB: It can be a daunting proposition for a manufacturer to perform a failure analysis investigation — what role does analytical chemistry testing play in solving failure problems?

McDaniel: A comprehensive testing program should be part of every failure analysis investigation. With over 50 analytical techniques available at Intertek Allentown’s site alone, we use these techniques to pinpoint very specific and sometimes subtle changes in the product that drive the potential failure. Even though hundreds of routine test standards are available to choose from, not all will work for your material, failure mode, or article size and shape. We evaluate the relevance of a standard test or develop a tailored approach to address your specific raw material or finished device. Our tailored testing programs offer a systematic approach to identifying failure modes specific to your process. Examples include:

  • Identification of imperfections, contamination, or residues (FTIR, Raman Spectroscopy, SEM-EDS)
  • Root cause crack formation and discoloration (exposure) in devices or casings (Optical Microscopy, SEM, FTIR, GPC)
  • Evaluation of volatile organic compound loss in association with temperature and time to mimic process or manufacturing conditions (TD-GCMS, TGA-IR)
  • Correlate multilayer flexible packaging film chemical structure to oxygen and water vapor transmission properties (Confocal Raman, Permeation – WVTR/OTR)
  • Determining heat seal failures or adhesion issues by understanding surface contamination, roughness, or layer thickness (XPS, Optical Profilometry, SEM/Light Microscopy)
  • Evaluation of root cause differences in tubing construction – material differences, processing window, polymer molecular weight, and performance (DMA, NMR, GPC, DSC)

In addition, a common strategy to pinpoint the root cause is a comparative analysis — ‘good’ versus ‘bad’. We can look for differences in chemistry, performance, and physical properties between the good and bad samples to determine the cause of the failure. The goal is to combine the context of the part application or environment with the appropriate analytical technique to enhance the chances of finding material differences.

MDB: What if a manufacturer doesn’t have a failure yet, but rather is looking to prevent potential failures. Are there testing programs/options for failure prevention?

McDaniel: Absolutely! We adapt routine measurement techniques for novel sample types, as well as develop new methods for emerging needs to help give our clients peace of mind throughout their process. Our scientists have decades of experience supporting client research, development and production projects, manufacturing, quality control, and consulting. Our capabilities and solutions help clients enhance discovery, prototype, scale-up, troubleshooting, and process monitoring activities.

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