Forensic engineering is primarily concerned with the link between engineering at law, whether civil or criminal. The purpose of an investigation will usually be to discover the cause of failure in a particular material, component, product or structure, and determine whether this failure was accidental or intentional. Whilst accidental failures may be the result of a natural cause, such as corrosion or fatigue, they may also include car, rail and aviation accidents. Engineering disasters, such as the collapse of a commercial bridge, will often be subject to such an investigation. However certain failures could prove criminal intent, whether maliciously or through negligence, and will often result in court proceedings.
The forensic engineer will conduct an investigation involving various inspections of the faulty structure or item, the collection of evidence and data, and performance of various experiments. The engineer’s report at the end of the investigation will often include information on the problem and its cause, documentation evidence (photographs, engineering drawings, testing records, quality control records, etc), potential solutions and suggestions for improvement, and evidence to support the entire report. It may be necessary for the engineer to present any findings in court, particularly in matters of litigation.
Manufacturers frequently take on forensic engineers to investigate particular faults in products in order to identify the cause and provide data for future improvements. In this case, they may need to retrace a series of processes and procedures in order to determine the exact origin of a problem. During some fault investigations, a dispute may arise between two parties, requiring litigation to resolve the situation. If neither side agree to accept responsibility for the fault which caused the incident, forensic engineers may be employed to provide evidence in order to establish the facts surrounding the case. The facts will then be presented in court, where the outcome can be decided.