Failure analysis is a critical field used to detect chemical and mechanical defects in polymeric materials, pinpointing the factors that have contributed to or directly resulted in product failure. This analytical discipline plays a pivotal role in enhancing the properties and value of polymer products. In instances of severe product failure, failure analysis is instrumental in determining liability, especially in cases involving hazardous device failures.

The failure analysis process typically commences with a forensic evaluation of the failed component to ascertain the root cause of flaws. This initial step is crucial in guiding the selection of the most appropriate analytical methods for assessing the level of failure. It aids in informing corrective actions, ensuring that the failed product was manufactured in accordance with the required certifications, and aims to prevent future failures.


What Causes Polymer Failure?

Both internal (material properties) and external (environmental) factors may contribute to the degradation of polymeric products. However, performing failure analysis focuses on identifying the inherent cause of failure within the product itself. For instance, external thermodynamic or chemical stress can lead to the wear and eventual breakdown of polymers. Failure in response to specific strains is anticipated and may be deemed acceptable from a liability standpoint. Nevertheless, if a polymer fails to withstand strains within the predefined parameters of its application requirements, failure analysis is tasked with uncovering the root cause.

Common root causes of polymer failure encompass design flaws, the use of inappropriate raw materials, and the presence of contaminants within the product. These issues underscore the importance of rigorous quality control in manufacturing processes. This blog post will delve into some of the prevalent analytical techniques for performing failure analysis in greater depth.

Understanding Failure Investigations

Among the key aspects of failure investigations are the data collected regarding the failed component's chemical composition and physical properties. Analytical chemists employ various analysis techniques, depending on the type of failure and polymer chemistry at play to discern the root cause. Through these sophisticated analytical methods, experts can evaluate the impact of manufacturing processes, environmental factors, and the selection of raw materials on the integrity of the product.

The techniques employed can then be used, depending on results, to implement more robust quality control measures ensuring the same failure is not repeated. The insights gained from failure investigations are invaluable in refining the design, selection of materials, and manufacturing processes of polymeric products, ensuring they meet the rigorous demands of their applications.

Failure Analysis Methodologies

Gel Permeation Chromatography

Gel permeation chromatography (GPC) is most commonly used to determine a sample material's polymer molecular weight (MW) by standardizing its physical properties against industrial benchmarks. It is also used to assess material degradation for failure analysis of polymeric products by dissolving a small sample of the failed component in a solvent and assessing the molar mass of the analyte through chromatographic measurement. This generally requires an understanding of the molecular weight distribution of the successful end-product for comparison.

Stereo Microscopy

Stereo microscopy is a nondestructive method of failure analysis that allows analysts to assess cracks in the surface of solid polymer products directly. It provides low magnification of an analyte material, with a magnifying range of 35 – 90x and two varying viewing angles for each eye.  Failures related to surface defects or other mechanical problems can be assessed.  For brittle materials, crack propagation analysis can provide further insight into the origin of failure.


FTIR microscopy enables analysts to assess the heterogeneity of sample materials to screen for compositional differences that could have contributed to mechanical failure. Small phase inconsistencies can be detected through microscopic analysis of surface molecules excited by infrared light. The absorption of light is recorded to create a chemical map of the surface composition and identify variations in the sample bulk.

Mass Spectrometry

Mass spectroscopy refers to a collection of techniques that measure the mass of individual chemical species. It is one of the most important methods of chemical analysis because the mass of a molecule is one of its most defining characteristics. Mass spectroscopy can be used to identify unknown chemicals and to determine their amount. This makes mass spectroscopy a very useful tool for forensic analysis as it enables the determination of the ingredients in a sample and allows comparisons of the amounts.

Mass spectrometers are highly sensitive instruments routinely capable of detection of chemicals in the parts-per-billion concentration range. Typical examples of mass spectroscopy techniques include liquid chromatography-mass spectroscopy (LCMS), gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GMCS) and pyrolysis mass spectroscopy (PYMS).

Jordi Labs, an RQM+ Company Service Labs is uniquely prepared to provide expert failure analysis to support corrective actions or to inform liability cases. With over 30 years’ experience of product failure analysis, we can accurately represent robust scientific data in an easy-to-understand manner.

If you would like any more information about our failure analysis methods, please do not hesitate to contact us today. Be sure to check out our Knowledge Center for more resources related to this topic!

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