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Forensic investigations in engineering design

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Labi Ariyo.

Forensic engineering involves the investigation of mishaps and failures where both engineering and legal issues come into play. As this covers a huge variety of unusual circumstances in real life, it offers the potential for providing a wealth of case-based teaching and research material. However, much of the potential is lost because of the confidential nature of the work and by attrition when case files are discarded or destroyed following resolution of a dispute.

In many engineering failure cases an overlooked or seemingly insignificant piece of evidence holds the key to what really happened, and it requires meticulous investigation based on wide-ranging practical experience to arrive at the true cause of the problem. During such an investigation the design, engineering and management personnel involved often are questioned exhaustively by lawyers, resulting in testimony that probes deeper into the real design process than any academic researcher could hope to achieve. For the engineering community not to learn from such intensely focussed and costly exercises is a missed opportunity, always regretted after the next major disaster.

In this presentation two case examples will be presented. One will be used to show some typical design issues that arise and to emphasize the following five key guidelines for effective forensic engineering investigations:

1. Bring all the pieces together again

2. Question all assumptions

3. Think through the logic

4. Explain the unusual

5. Demonstrate findings clearly

The other example will be used to show how engineering design theory may be applied in those cases involving the engineering design process and to emphasize five guidelines for analysis of the engineering design process in practice:

1. Understand the design context

2. Question design staff & operators

3. Inspect & “get to know” equipment

4. Assess the design, phase by phase

5. Explain in terms of design theory

This talk is part of the Engineering Design Centre series.

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