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«Simon Stevin Series in the Philosophy of Technology Failure Analysis of an Engineering Concept Failure Analysis of an Engineering Concept ...»

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Failure: Analysis of an

Engineering Concept

Luca Del Frate

Simon Stevin Series in the Philosophy of Technology


Analysis of an Engineering Concept


Analysis of an Engineering Concept


ter verkrijging van de graad van doctor

aan de Technische Universiteit Delft,

op gezag van de Rector Magnificus prof. ir. K.C.A.M. Luyben

voorzitter van het College voor Promoties,

in het openbaar te verdedigen op dinsdag 28 januari 2014 om 15.00 uur

door Luca DEL FRATE

Laurea in filosofia, Università degli Studi di Padova geboren te Palmanova, Italië

Dit proefschrift is goedgekeurd door de promotor:

Prof. dr. ir. P.A. Kroes


Dr. P.E. Vermaas Dr. M.P.M. Franssen Samenstelling promotiecommissie Rector Magnificus, Technische Universiteit Delft, voorzitter Prof. dr. ir. P.A. Kroes, Technische Universiteit Delft, promotor Dr. P.E. Vermaas, Technische Universiteit Delft, copromotor Dr. M.P.M. Franssen, Technische Universiteit Delft, copromotor Prof. dr. ir. M. Boon, Universiteit Twente Prof. dr. S.O. Hansson, Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan Prof. dr. C.W. Johnson, University of Glasgow Prof. dr. ir. P.H.A.J.M. van Gelder, Technische Universiteit Delft Prof. dr. ir. I.R. van de Poel, Technische Universiteit Delft, reservelid © Luca Del Frate, 2014 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without prior permission in writing of the publisher.

editors: Peter Kroes and Anthonie Meijers ISBN: 978-90-386-3542-2 ISSN: 1574-941X Contents List of papers vii Acknowledgements ix 1 Introduction 1

1.1. Multiplicity of definitions 5

1.2. Life Cycle Engineering and the evolving concept of failure 8

1.3. A dual audience 11

1.4. Learning from failures and beyond 16 2 Towards a Trans-disciplinary Concept of Failure for Integrated Product Development 23



2.1. Introduction 23

2.2. From the sequential model to Integrated Product Development 25

2.3. The cross-functional failure domain 31

2.4. Criteria 35

2.5. Definitions’ assessment 42

2.6. A

–  –  –

vi List of papers Chapter 2

Del Frate, L., Franssen, M., and Vermaas, P. E. (2011) 'Towards a transdisciplinary concept of failure for Integrated Product Development', in:

International Journal of Product Development 14 (1-4): 72–95.

Chapter 3

Del Frate, L. (2013) 'Failure of Engineering Artifacts: A Life Cycle Approach', in:

Science and Engineering Ethics 19 (3): 913–944.

Chapter 4 Del Frate, L. (2012) 'Preliminaries to a formal ontology of failure of engineering artifacts', in: Donnelly, M. and Guizzardi, G. (eds.), Formal Ontology in Information Systems: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference (FOIS 2012), IOS Press, Amsterdam: 117–130.

Chapter 5

Del Frate, L., Zwart, S. D., and Kroes, P. A. (2011) 'Root cause as a U-turn', in:

Engineering Failure Analysis 18 (2): 747–758.

Chapter 6 A version of this chapter will be submitted to the journal Technology and Culture.

Maarten Franssen, Peter Kroes, Pieter Vermaas, and Sjoerd Zwart are acknowledged for granting permission to publish the co-authored papers in this dissertation.

–  –  –

Doing a PhD-project is a journey, a long, sometimes bumpy journey full of surprises, funny episodes, and interesting people. Admittedly, the PhD-journey analogy has been made so many times that it has become a cliché. Nevertheless, I think it is a very appropriate analogy, especially if you consider the amount of travel that working in academia today implies. Moreover, I personally associate some of the most vivid memories of this PhD with travelling. Definitely the most memorable was my second journey to Japan, in February 2012. I was going there for a conference together with Peter Kroes, my promotor, who had been invited as a keynote speaker. Our destination was Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture. Less than a year before, the 11th of March 2011, the area was struck by the massive Tohoku earthquake and the following tsunami. Indeed, Sendai is located about 100 Km north of the infamous Fukushima nuclear power plant and some of the damage was still visible around the conference venue itself in the form of long and wide cracks running along walls and staircases (everybody reassured us the buildings were totally safe, though). On the second day of our trip we were invited to visit the coastal areas to the south and see with our own eyes what happened there. It was a cold and rainy day and before us stood a vast area of complete destruction. In that location the gigantic wave reached as high as 17 meters. Only houses built above that line survived, everything else had been swept away. Such was the amount of debris that after one year of work even the super-efficient Japanese were still busy with the clean-up. Although we had already seen plenty of images of that kind on TV, walking through that deserted place and witnessing the admirable dignity of our Japanese hosts made a great impression on us.

But that was not the end of our journey and the following days we enjoyed the warmth of Japanese hospitality. We were shown around, visited beautiful temples, abundantly explored the local cuisine, and took a ride on the mighty Shinkansen, the bullet train. Even though it was a short trip, the combination of contrasting experiences and emotions made me realize that, besides being a talented philosopher (which I already knew him to be), Peter is also a wonderful travel companion. His enthusiasm is contagious and because of his genuine passion for learning there is never shortage of subjects for conversation. And he ix has a gift for finding the right words for almost every occasion, both for the good days and for the less good ones. Thanks Peter for being such a great promotor.

Pieter Vermaas, co-promotor, has been my daily supervisor, but his contribution has been much greater than this description might suggest. By virtue of example, and by challenging my ideas with provoking questions he has been a key figure in my PhD, and I wish to thank him for all the support and understanding; not to mention the good laughs. Many thanks also to Maarten Franssen, co-promotor, for all the fascinating and wide-ranging conversations, which were always enlightened by his impressive philosophical acumen.

During my research, I took part in the EuJoint project, an international exchange project on engineering ontologies, and I visited two of the participating institutions. Thus, I would like to thank everyone at the Laboratory for Applied Ontology (Trento, Italy) which I visited in April 2011, particularly Nicola Guarino and Stefano Borgo for the kind hospitality and the stimulating comments on my work. Later that year, I spent a month at the Mizoguchi Lab in Osaka. That was my first visit to Japan, and I wish to thank all the researchers and staff working at the Mizoguchi Lab, especially Riichiro Mizoguchi and Yoshinobu Kitamura for the warm hospitality and the valuable feedback on my research.

Quite naturally, by travelling one gets to meet people, and, indeed, I have been very fortunate to have met many brilliant researchers with whom I collaborated, made plans for future collaboration, or just had interesting conversations.

Hence, I would like to acknowledge: Gaetano Cascini (Polytechnic University of Milan) and Gualtiero Fantoni (University of Pisa) with whom I co-authored a paper, Claudia Eckert (Open University), Crispin Hales (Hales & Gooch Ltd.), and all the engineers I have met at the International Engineering Conference on Failure Analysis in 2010 and 2012 who showed interest in my research, especially Emiel Amsterdam (NLR), Richard Clegg (Queensland University of Technology), Fabrizio D’Errico (Polytechnic University of Milan), Colin Gagg and Peter Lewis (Open University), Tommaso Ghedini (ESA), and Stan Lynch (DSTO). I am grateful to Russell Wanhill (NLR) for the generosity shown in sharing his knowledge and for his ability in clarifying complex technical matters.

Michael van Tooren (TU Delft, Aerospace Engineering), Tetsuo Tomiyama (Cranfield University), Marco Ferraguti (University of Milan), and Cory Cooper (ISAF) are acknowledged for providing valuable support and insightful comments, particularly during the early stages of my research.

x Admittedly, by working at TU Delft one does not need to travel in order to get in touch with different cultures and interesting people, they just happen to be there. I enjoyed wholeheartedly my time at the Philosophy department, with its friendly and yet productive atmosphere and the wonderful colleagues. I wish to express my gratitude for their support and friendship to Behnam Taebi and Christine van Burken, who accepted to show up in fancy ceremonial dresses as paranymphs at my defense, Malik Ahmed, Christian Detweiler, Adam Henschke, Bjørn Jespersen, David Koepsell, Filippo Santoni De Sio, Philip Serracino Inglott, Dingmar van Eck, and Sjoerd Zwart. A word of praise goes also to Diana Droog and Henneke Filiz-Piekhaar for their help in organizational and practical matters.

Many thanks to all members of the Coffee Breaks Discussion Group, whose regular meetings provided both much needed distraction and scores of insightful comments, and a special mention to the most senior members George Dafermos, Emiel Kerpershoek, Devender Maheshwari, Jop van den Hoogen and the honorary member Anish Patil.

I am at loss of words (and she knows it doesn’t happen very often) to express my affection and gratitude to Barbara with whom I shared the highs and lows of this journey. Without her I wouldn’t be able to travel this far. Together, we would like to thank our families which never missed to make their affection and support felt. Also, we would like to thank all our friends, whose company we hope to enjoy more often. I know I was a bore with all the ranting about finishing the PhD, it’s over now, you can pick up my calls!

Finally, I cannot avoid mentioning Pen the Penguin, my dear skating teacher:

thanks to his lessons I won the 2010 Philosophy Section Best Skater Award.

That alone was worth the journey.

xi1 Introduction

It is fashionable for books about engineering failures to mention, often at the beginning, the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian law code dating back to about 2250 BC, see e.g. (Feld and Carper: 1997; Ratay: 2009; Grimvall et al.: 2010;

Bazu and Bajenescu: 2011). In these books, the Code is presented as a stark reminder that engineers have been dealing with failures since they started realizing technical artifacts. In fact, a section of the Code deals explicitly with legal consequences of engineering failures and takes, for today’s standards, a

rather strong stance. For instance, law 229 is:

If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death. (Adapted from King: 1915, 23) Tongue-in-cheek, Feld and Carper (1997) note that this kind of legislation may have had a negative impact on engineering progress in Babylonian times by reducing the opportunities of learning from failures. On a more serious tone, the laws in the Code illustrate a duality in the concept of failure that has persisted until the present day, namely the duality between material and functional aspects of failure. The former aspect is exemplified by collapses as mentioned in law 229. The latter appears in law 235 where the legislator deals with a different

branch of engineering, ship building, as thus:

If a shipbuilder builds a boat for someone, and does not make it tight, if during that same year that boat is sent away and suffers injury, the shipbuilder shall take the boat apart and put it together tight at his own expense. The tight boat he shall give to the boat owner. (Adapted from King: 1915, 23) In this case, the problem with the technical artifact does not reside in its structural integrity but relates to a lacking of adequate performance (e.g., its water tightness) that may obtain regardless of material or structural changes. Indeed, an artifact might be in pristine condition and yet unable to perform as expected.

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