Polymeric materials  like rubbers cure or harden (set) into a given shape, generally through the application of heat. Curing also known as vulcanizing is an irreversible chemical reaction in which permanent connections known as cross-links are made between the material’s molecular chains. These intra-molecular cross-links give the cured rubber material a solid three-dimensional structure.

Rubber products are designed using engineering principles of loads and deflections applied to a certain volume of material. The use of engineering principles in the development of rubber products provide an application envelope in which the products are expected to perform. Most of the products do provide the required services for satisfactory lifetimes, however  failures do occur. Failures occurring under field services conditions are expensive and it becomes imperative to identify the cause and rectify it as soon as possible. The failure mode of polymers sets limits to the process of engineering design.

Understanding the actual reason for failures is absolutely required to avoid recurrence and prevent failure in similar components, systems, structures or products. The analysis should also help with the understanding and improvement of design, materials selection, and manufacturing techniques.

Failure analysis consists of investigations to find out how and why parts and components failed.

The four major reasons for engineering failures are;

1) Poor and improper design features,

2) Incorrect use of material,

3) Defects introduced during manufacturing and

4) Service conditions.

Traditionally, failure analysis methods have focused on laboratory testing and chemical analysis of components to fully understand why components fail. The evolution of faster computers, as well as the growth of available material information, has made computer-based failure analysis using techniques like Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) more feasible and accessible.

Figure 1 shows the flowchart of a systematic approach to a typical failure analysis study. The process of failure study invariably starts with observing the working of the component under service conditions and gathering the facts about the conditions. One can identify patterns in the behavior of the material or component under service conditions and develop a technical hypothesis based on the observations. Once all the observations have been recorded, a failure hypothesis is generated that fits all the observations. This failure hypothesis is now tested to make sure that all the facts and observations fit into the failure narrative. Upon verification and validation of the tested hypothesis the conclusions are formed and finalized.

Figure 1: Systematic Approach to Failure Analysis


The failure analysis procedure calls for defining the function and operating condition of the elastomer component and establishing a failure criterion clearly quantifying under what performance and service conditions the component can be declared as having failed. The failure criterion may be an unacceptable change in a property and this change may cause a particular failure. Abnormal changes in the values of properties like stress relaxation, tear resistance, stiffness and modulus change, dynamic properties, etc can be defined. Then next step is to characterize and identify the underlining physics and mechanisms involved in causing this changes. Establish the rate of change by accelerated laboratory testing at different levels of severity and different time intervals. It is important to keep the accelerated test conditions similar to the service conditions and perform the test at atleast four (4) temperatures higher than average service temperature. These four conditions can be suitably used for life predictions using Arrhenius technique.

Figure 2: Failure Analysis

ASTM E860-2013

Any investigation in failure analysis results in large amount of data regarding the sample history, test data, analysis and discussion of results. ASTM E860-2013 specifies a protocol for the examination of forensic evidence pertaining to failure analysis. This well developed method can be taken as a template to follow  and carry out the failure analysis procedure as described. This establishes  a well defined protocol showing the steps followed to collect, document, study and analyze and present the results for failure analysis on material samples and components.

The following shows in brief the information from ASTM E860-2013 specifications;

1) Chain of Custody Documentation

1.1) Copies of receiving and shipping documentation

1.2) Pictures of materials as received

2) Physical Evidence Documentation

2.1) Labelings

2.2) Samples with benchmarks

3) Steps in dissection

4) Steps in Testing

5) Test equipment number, calibration etc.

6) Photo Documentation

6.1) Digital

6.2) SEM, TEM etc.

The approaches discussed in flowcharts 1 and 2 can be applied to determine failure analysis of polymer components used in engineering applications. It is important to define failure modes and failure mechanisms for parts under service conditions. It is also critical to establish validations between field and laboratory samples using different physical and chemical analysis techniques. The primary rate determining mechanism of component failure can be used to predict failures using the accelerated functional tests.

The failure mode analysis effort conducted on polymer materials provides a good materials and process database for design and FEA engineers who can optimize the product without the need for expensive trial and errors thus reducing cost and time to market.


  1. Leyden, Jerry., Failure Analysis in Elastomer Technology: Special Topics, Rubber Division, 2003
  2. Baranwal, Krishna., Elastomer Technology: Special Topics, Rubber Division, 2003
  3. Srinivas, K., and Pannikottu, A., Material Characterization and FEA of a Novel Compression Stress Relaxation Method to Evaluate Materials for Sealing Applications at the 28th Annual Dayton-Cincinnati Aerospace Science Symposium, March 2003.
  4. Srinivas, K., Systematic Experimental and Computational Mechanics Failure Analysis Methodologies for Polymer Components, ARDL Technical Report, March 2008.
  5. Dowling, N. E., Mechanical Behavior of Materials, Engineering Methods for Deformation, Fracture and Fatigue Prentice-Hall, NJ, 99