July 2009

Engineering Case Histories

Case 51: Phantom failures

Why some are very elusive

Sofronas, A., Consulting Engineer

While I would like to say all of my troubleshooting efforts have been successes, this wouldn't be true. Those who say they have always found the true cause of failures haven't tried to solve many problems. There are those failures that haunt us, which I call phantom failures, because they are so elusive. Although we perhaps make changes so the problem doesn't recur, we often have not found the true cause. Here are a few examples: 1. A mixer/reactor vibrated excessively; however, when it was opened and inspected, no cause was found. 2. A pipe fell out of the pipe rack and ruptured for no apparent reason. 3. A pipe failed due to fatigue at a weld, but there appeared to be no vibratio

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