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Materials Failure

The world around us is made of thousands of different materials, some man-made and some that are found in nature. The history of human civilisation has been driven by the development of new materials from the golden age to the silicon age and everything in between. Materials such as polymers, composites, ceramics, glass and metals are fundamental to our way of life. However, even the strongest of materials can fail, sometimes with catastrophic consequences, such as causing personal injury, fire, mechanical fault and escapes of fluid.

Materials failure is the inability of a material component (which may be a standalone item or part of an assembly) to function as it was designed.  For example, external load, inconsistent temperature, manufacturing defects, chemical contamination and the state of stress on the object can all play a role in whether a material fails its purpose. Though most material failures can be classified as resulting from either fracture or yield, Hawkins engineers are able to  carry out detailed investigations into the precise nature of a material’s structure, surroundings, use and maintenance to determine why the failure occurred.


Our materials engineers investigate the mechanism by which a material has failed, which then allows them to also isolate the cause that set the failure process into motion. Our laboratory equipment allows Hawkins engineers to examine material failure at both the macroscopic and microscopic level. We are also able to provide expert knowledge to assist in preventing similar events from occurring, whether the incident occurred due to a design flaw, a manufacturing issue, human error, or poor material specifications.

Some recent examples of our case work include:

  • Poorly formed weld leading to broken crane
  • Fracture of toughened glass panes due to an inclusion.
  • Corrosion of heat exchanger on a bio-gas fired generator from flue gasses.
  • Corrosion of metal cables in lift/elevator shafts.
  • Stress corrosion cracking of metals, particularly stainless steel braided hoses.
  • Degradation of wooden cladding and paint
  • Failure or degradation of metal and plastic plumbing fittings


Our expert materials scientists and engineers have years of experience identifying the cause(s) of complex failure incidents. We can:

  • Ascertain the cause of the failure
  • Advise whether recovery is possible
  • Help to identify where responsibility/liability lies
  • Assist in defending third party liability claims
  • Review any breaches of warranty or policy conditions
  • Provide risk management advice

We can carry out analyses either on a desktop basis or by going to site to collect evidence in person.  Our forensic investigators will collect and evaluate all the available physical evidence. In order to understand materials failures further examination in our well-equipped laboratories is often required. Any testing protocols will be developed and discussed with the client before proceeding.

We discover why, and relish challenges from the domestic to large commercial enterprises or developments.

Contact Us

If you are seeking a career in forensic consultancy, email us at [email protected] and attach your CV together with a summary of your area of experise, experience, and what you can bring to the team.

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