Polymer Failure Analysis:The Methods and Applications

Polymer Failure Analysis

Image Credit: Jordi Labs

Failure analysis is employed in order to detect mechanical and chemical defects and deficiencies in polymer products, which have directly resulted in, or contributed to, failure.

It is a crucial analytical field that is able to enhance the profitability and efficiency of polymeric products and supports research and development applications of polymer materials. In severe cases, polymer failure analysis may be needed to establish liability in instances of hazardous device failure.

This vital analytical discipline usually starts with a forensic evaluation of the point of failure to establish the root cause of flaws and determine the best analytical technique for evaluating the level of failure, informing corrective actions, and establishing if the failed product was manufactured to the required certifications.

There are extraneous factors that could cause polymeric products to degrade, but failure analysis is concerned with determining the underlying cause of failure within the product. For instance, external chemical or thermodynamic stress can lead to polymers wearing and eventually breaking.

Failure in response to distinct strains may be considered acceptable from a liability perspective and is expected. Yet, where a polymer has not resisted strains within the pre-defined parameters of its application needs, failure analysis looks to establish the root cause.

Generally, the root causes of polymer failure include the application of unsuitable raw materials, design flaws, or the presence of contaminants within the polymeric product. This article will look at some of the common analytical techniques for failure analysis in more detail.

Failure Analysis with Gel Permeation Chromatography

Most commonly, gel permeation chromatography (GPC) is employed to establish the polymer molecular weight (MW) of sample material by standardizing its physical properties against industrial benchmarks.

Additionally, by dissolving a small sample of the failed component in a solvent and assessing the molar mass of the analyte through chromatographic measurement, it is utilized to assess material degradation for failure analysis of polymeric products.

Typically, for comparison, this requires a knowledge of the molecular weight distribution of the successful end-product.

Failure Analysis with Stereo Microscopy

Stereo microscopy is a non-destructive technique for failure analysis that enables analysts to examine cracks in the surface of solid polymer products directly.

With a magnifying range of 35 – 90x and two varying viewing angles for each eye, it supplies low magnification of an analyte material. Subsequently, the image can be observed three-dimensionally to highlight mechanical defects in more detail.

Failure Analysis with FTIR-Microscopy

FTIR-microscopy allows analysts to evaluate the heterogeneity of sample materials to screen for compositional differences, which could have contributed towards mechanical failure.

Through microscopic analysis of surface molecules excited by infrared light, small phase inconsistencies are able to be detected. In order to generate a chemical map of the surface composition and identify variations in the sample bulk, the absorption of light is recorded.

Failure Analysis with Mass Spectrometry

Mass spectroscopy refers to a collection of methods that measure the mass of individual chemical species. As the mass of a molecule is one of its most defining characteristics, it is one of the most crucial methods of chemical analysis.

Mass spectroscopy can be employed to identify unknown chemicals and to establish how much of the chemicals there are. This makes mass spectroscopy a crucial tool for forensic analysis as it allows the determination of the ingredients in a sample and enables comparisons of the amounts.

Typical examples of mass spectroscopy methods include gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GMCS), liquid chromatography-mass spectroscopy (LCMS), and pyrolysis mass spectroscopy (PYMS).

Failure Analysis with Jordi Labs

Jordi Labs is uniquely prepared to supply expert failure analysis to support corrective actions or to inform liability cases. With more than 30 years of experience in product failure analysis, Jordi Labs can represent robust scientific data accurately in a way that is easy to understand.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Jordi Labs.

For more information on this source, please visit Jordi Labs.

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