Why Things Fail

From tires to helicopter blades, everything breaks eventually.
  1. In the corner of Building 4, a massive complex at Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, the ghostly skeleton of a pickup truck endures a constant torment. The truck has no wheels, no bed, no seats, and no steering column—it’s just a vacant shell and a set of pedals. Inside, a pneumatic piston is positioned to press on the gas pedal over and over again, night and day. It’s a test of the whole accelerator assembly, but engineers are focused on one simple part—the hinge that connects the gas pedal to the frame.

    Building 4 is Ford’s Tough Testing Center, where the company evaluates nearly all of its nonengine parts, from seat belts to axle assemblies. The facility is a monument to a dark truth of manufacturing: Even the best-engineered products fail. Some percentage of all mechanical devices will break before they’re expected to. “Companies come to me and say they want to be 100 percent failure-free after three years,” says Fred Schenkelberg, whose firm, FMS Reliability, estimates th...

The complete text of “Why Things Fail” is not in the Byliner library, but we love it so much we included an excerpt and a link to the full story on www.wired.com.

Originally published in Wired, October 2012

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