Monthly Archives: September 2012

More material

In previous posts I have mentioned the need for ‘more material’ in order to reduce the probability of failure.  This is a little sloppy, since there are, at least, two options buried in these statements.  Namely, the simple one, which is to add a greater mass of material; and the alternative, which is to use a stronger but lighter material, i.e. a more sophisticated material, e.g. a composite.  These are usually also more expensive but can also provide opportunities to incorporate sustainability via bio-based recyclability [for information on bio-based composites see


Risk definition

A section from a photoelastic model of turbine disc with a single blade viewed in polarised light to reveal the stress distribution.

Risk is defined as the possibility of something happening multiplied by the consequences when it does happen.  The public understanding of risk sometimes only extends to the first half of this definition.  Engineers seek to reduce the risks associated with component failure.  This means accepting a non-zero probability of failure happening and then designing for least catastrophic consequences.  So for instance in a jet engine, this implies designing so that if a crack develops it is in a blade rather than the disc to which all of the blades are attached.  The engine casing can be designed to contain a single blade breaking off and thus protect the rest of the plane from flying debris, but not to contain the rupture of an entire disc and set of blades.

For more information on the photoelastic stress analysis techniques used to generate the image, see