Engineering Failures


This page is dedicated to engineering failures. There are no examples of people using a piece of engineering for completely the wrong purposes, or way beyond it's specification, and it isn't clips of people aimlessly crashing cars into trees or the like. These clips are engineering failures. Enjoy.


As every true engineer knows, graduating from Uni/collage, getting chartered status or simply being time served isn't qualification enough to be an engineer: Engineering is in the blood - it starts with Lego at a few months old and progresses to Meccarno, then taking apart everyday household goods with tools borrowed from (but never returned to) Dad's tools box. By the time you get to ten, you're already pretty handy with the power tools your father isn't intending to let you anywhere near for at least another 5 years. Sometime around thirteen, something breaks and your Dad is scratching his head to find a solution, but you actually manage to do something useful: an idea, or a suggestion or possibly even a solution. It doesn't actually matter, the point is, for the first time you've 'contributed', and your parents know it. The dawning realisation that years of missing tools and stripped down TV controllers destined never to work again, have actually been the start of a journey toward a worthy cause is momentous for parent and child alike.

Engineering as a child is exhilarating and exciting. Design, manufacture, testing all done by yourself and trusted sidekick. No business objectives to satisfy, risk assessments to write or boss giving you grief for late delivery despite him primarily being responsible for all of the project's scope creep. Racing your go-kart down a 1-in-5 hill, not being sure if you'll even have four wheels at the bottom, let alone win the race, is far more exhilarating and risky than the annual holiday bungee jump. We rarely get this level of excitement in our adult life, which in a weird (and very round-about) way is why i think we like watching clips of engineering failures (usually whilst eating sandwiches over our lunch break).

So, this first page are those clips that we all like watching - classic examples of engineering failure. These aren't examples of people using a piece of engineering wrongly - there are no car crashes or the like, but rather, they're all bits of engineering being used in the way they were intended... but failing... Enjoy :-) - and if you have any good clips, send me them - ta muchly, BB.

Blade Off Test

Ok, so this isn't exactly an engineering failure, more a test to determine what happens in the event of an engineering failure - still pretty impressive though! The blade off test is to ensure the structural integrity of the engine housing in the event of a fan blade breaking free due to, say, a bird strike.

Lamborghini Fire

This looks like a relatively innocuous car fire (although not great for the owner, i'm sure), but is it? After a spate of Lambo fires world wide, questions are being asked. I've heard one theory based around inadequate fire walls protecting (or not) hot engine parts from flammable carbon parts. Another theory is based around hoses failing, resulting in oil spilling onto hot bits. Whether or not there is/are some intrinsic design issues that need addressing, questions are being asked.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Well, this is one of the most famous of engineering failures of all time. If you haven't seen it before its well worth a watch. The motion is caused by the wind speed exciting one of the natural modes of frequency of the bridge. This affect isn't consigned to the history books either - The millennium bridge in London began to resonate on its opening day, this time due to people walking on it, rather than the wind - a pretty fundamental floor for a foot bridge :-)

Danish windmill

The wind turbine in this clip (manufactured by Vestas, and located near Hornslet, Denmark) has suffered a brake failure. You can tell as soon as you start the clip that it isn't supposed to be turning that quickly - watch and wait for the inevitable!

French missile failure

I've worked for two French engineering companies, and worked with a French software house. They're great engineers, but it's always nice to take the piss just a little ;-)

I particularly like the split second pause whilst everyone's brain computes the potential consequence of the events before turning tail and legging it - a brown trouser moment me thinks. Lol.

Bridge failure

This looks like a crash but it is actually an engineering failure of the bridge. This occurred on the St. Lawrence Sea Way (the bit that splits Canada from the U.S. and joins the Great Lakes to the North Atlantic). The bridge raised for the ship (the Windoc), before dropping enough to cause some serious damage. Miraculously, there were no casualties on the ship. The Master was actually on the bridge at the time: whilst everyone else scarpered, he stayed and 'ducked' last minute narrowly missing bisection by shearing steel plate - must have been British ;-)

A report into the failure suggested that "It is likely that the operator’s performance was impaired at the time of the occurrence"

The sad part is that the shipping company went bust as a result of this. It was a family run company that had been around for circa 100 years, and went under due to the amount of time it took the insurers to settle the claim. Wankers.

Fancy buying a cheap Chinese car?

Hmmm. There's a plethora of these vids on YouTube, that all tell the same story: If you buy a Chinese car don't have a crash in it. I particularly like the effectiveness of the airbag (shown close up on the last test). Rather than protecting the driver's head, it seems more to be a warning to the driver that they're about to have the steering wheel, followed by steering column, followed by dashboard, driven through they're forehead. It'll take more than a couple of Paracetamol to sort that headache out!

All of the tests were stated to have been at 64km/h. The first two tests are a Lexus and a Fiat. These give you some form of comparison to the Chinese cars. Notice how the driver compartments of the Lexus and Fiat appear not to have been breached.

More French shenanigans

Here's some footage of the catastrophic failure of the Ariane 5 rocket in 1996. Although the failure is widely reported as being due to a floating point calculation error/float to int conversion error/sign convension anomoly, this is not the indicated cause put forward by the inquiry board

To cut a long story short, it would appear that they carried over the flight control systems from the Ariane 4 rocket: the thought process being why risk creating a new problem with new software when we already have perfectly good flight control software. Understandable decision. The existing piece of software had a function that determined the horizontal velocity of the vehicle. It would appear that the velocities experienced by the Ariane 4 vehicle were lower than that of Ariane 5. The levels that Ariane 5 experienced were sufficient enough to saturate the value that the function passed back to the guidance system. This essentially lead to the rocket, unnecessarily, trying to over correct for a problem that wasn't really there. Ooops. I'm guessing that someone in the test and validation department not only got there lunch break reduced from 2 hours to 1, but also had to work part of August for that ;-)


F1, the cutting edge of technoogy eh? This shows that mixing a several thousand volt Kinetic Energy Recovery System with a carbon chassis is a struggle to make safe even in F1.

KERS? This is the system that the FIA (the governing body of F1), insisted that all teams devloped. It's supposed to recover energy during braking that can be put back into the 'system' at points where the driver decides he wants it - like when he's overtaking. Pressing the 'boost' button will give around an extra 70bhp, but only for a few seconds a lap. Sounds great except, for most circuits, the extra weight you lug around nullifies the overall lap time advantage. It's not being running for one season yet and despite the tens of millions of pounds spent developing the systems it looks like they're going to shelve it: Good job they're not trying to save money in F1 isn't it!

Crane Collapses

This 567ft crane was lifting a section of retractible roof section onto the new Miller Park Stadium in Milwaukee. It would appear that the lift occurred when winds were deeemed to be at best marginal.