Forensic engineering

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Forensic engineering is the investigation of materials, products, structures or components that fail or do not operate or function as intended, causing personal injury or damage to property. The consequences of failure are dealt with by the law of product liability. The field also deals with retracing processes and procedures leading to accidents in operation of vehicles or machinery. The subject is applied most commonly in civil law cases, although may be of use in criminal law cases. Generally the purpose of a Forensic engineering investigation is to locate cause or causes of failure with a view to improve performance or life of a component, or to assist a court in determining the facts of an accident. It can also involve investigation of intellectual property claims, especially patents.



As the field of engineering has evolved over time so has the field of forensic engineering. With the prevalence of liability lawsuits in the late 1900's the use of forensic engineering as a means to determine culpability spread in the courts. Dr. Edmond Locard (1877–1966) was a pioneer in forensic science who formulated the basic principle of forensic science: "Every contact leaves a trace". This became known as Locard's exchange principle.


Vital to the field of forensic engineering is the procress of investigating and collecting data related to the materials, products, structures or components that failed. This involves inspections, collecting evidence, measurements, developing models, obtaining exemplar products, and performing experiments.


FMEA and fault tree analysis methods also examine product or process failure in a structured and systematic way, in the general context of safety engineering. However, all such techniques rely on accurate reporting of failure rates, and precise identification, of the failure modes involved.

There is some common ground between forensic science and forensic engineering, such as scene of crime and scene of accident analysis, integrity of the evidence and court appearances. Both disciplines make extensive use of optical and scanning electron microscopes, for example. They also share common use of spectroscopy (infra-red, ultra-violet and nuclear magnetic resonance) to examine critical evidence. Radiography using X-rays or neutrons is also very useful in examining thick products for their internal defects before destructive examination is attempted. Often, however, a simple hand lens to reveal the cause of a particular problem.

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