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When the problem is in the parts   

When the problem is in the parts


For every product, material choices must be made on the basis of usage requirements as well as cost. Often the different material options are characterized before an item is taken into production. Checks are done to see whether all parameters are within specification to determine if everything behaves as expected. However, it is impossible to predict everything and there are many types of material-specific (metals, polymers, ceramics) failures which have caused unexpected problems in the past.

By Arjan Mank, Principal Scientist, Philips Innovation Labs

Changes in materials

Even when during product development every material characteristic is taken into account, there are factors outside our control once we start making it in large quantities. Problems can be the result of changes at suppliers, who only deliver what you specify. Insufficiently detailed or clear specs can cause a great deal of trouble. For example, when a polymeric material is used for screws, the polymer chain length and low-level contamination can already significantly alter their strength. As we look for ways of delivering the same functionality at a significantly lower cost, such issues crop up far more often than they used to.

Changes in the user environment

Sometimes, problems only become visible once a product has reached the end user and nothing seems to be wrong during the quality control at the factory. This could be because material properties are influenced by unexpected usage conditions. For example, people might position their refrigerator next to a stove or deep fryer (heat, oil, ..) or a dishwasher (heat, steam, ..). In professional usage environments, regulations are often updated. Not every material may be able to resist newly subscribed cleaning agents. In the approach described in the refrigerator story, the assembly process is examined first. If the problem cause isn’t found there, it has to be in the parts. So we look at the part features and material properties that are likely to play a role. Depending on the material, this could be shape, composition, phase transitions, sensitivity to acids and solvents, thermal and mechanical properties or even contamination.

Successful problem solving

When the cause of a problem is not immediately apparent from the initial analysis we can still compare findings with the ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ categories of the products and look for a correlation. Only those variables that fit with the observed failure will be linked to the root cause. It might seem obvious, but many long-term issues can only be solved by taking the structured approaches that exist for efficient problem solving.


Can’t find the cause of a production process problem? Time to examine part features, material properties, usage conditions and combinations of all three. If you’d like to know more about material analysis and problem solving, or discuss your own challenges, feel free to contact us.

Your technical contact

Marcel Verheijen 
Senior Technologist Advanced Imaging 
Phone: +31 6 21 17 42 27

Your general contact

Ben Broers
Business Development Manager
Phone: +31 40 27 48883