The Professional Stress Analyst
Stress analysis is often not well understood by corporate management, particularly by managers who rose to their administrative positions through nontechnical channels. In many companies the stress analysis activity, if undertaken at all, tends to be looked upon as a “necessary evil”; i.e., as a continual, essentially nonproductive expense which seems to be required of companies manufacturing certain types of consumer products.
The foregoing view of stress analysis, where it exists, is very apt to be self-fulfilling with the net result that the stress analysis department or “swat team” is rarely called upon except when a product is in trouble. A stress analyst who works for such a company is commonly “painted with the same brush”, and is thus inhibited from making the contributions to corporate profitability that might otherwise be derived from the effective use of this technology. A team of first-rate, professional stress analysts, supported by a modern well-equipped laboratory, can and should represent a positive, constructive force in company operations, and one which more than pays for itself.
While a succinct definition of a professional stress analyst would be difficult to formulate, we can at least identify some of the ideal attributes for such an individual. For starters, he or she should have a solid engineering education, preferably from a school that is strong in mechanics (including experimental mechanics). The education itself is of only limited value to the employer, however, until it has been supplemented and reinforced by a decade or so of practical stress analysis experience in an industrial environment. This should include active participation in product design, development, and testing, as well as troubleshooting product failures and malfunctions.
This individual should have, of course, intimate familiarity with both the theoretical and experimental tools of stress analysis. Contrary to the opinions of some theorists, and of some experimentalists, these two aspects of the discipline are not separable in the industrial workplace; and overemphasis on either one is likely to decrease the cost-effectiveness of the stress analysis effort. The professional stress analyst needs to understand the power of the analytical methods, and also their severe limitations when it comes to achieving the most economical product to perform a specified function with the required degree of reliability. For this purpose, the individual must have first-hand experience with, and proficiency in, all the well-established practical techniques of experimental stress analysis. Whether through lack of expertise or lack of proper equipment, trying to solve an experimental stress analysis problem with the inappropriate technology is always ill-advised, and may be dangerous.
Even though stress analysis would have to be classed as a highly specialized occupation, the professional practitioner must, in fact, be a technical generalist as well. He or she should have an adequate working knowledge of, for instance, electronics, hydraulics, chemistry, and material science. Thermodynamics and heat transfer, physics, including optics and acoustics, statistics, etc. To be effective in any particular organization, the stress analyst must also be thoroughly familiar with the company’s products, heritage and culture – in terms of design, materials, processing, fabrication, assembly, and application and service environment.
Beyond the preceding, there is the requirement common to all true professionals; namely, a commitment to career-long continued education. Only by extensive reading, participation in professional society activities, attendance at special courses, and similar efforts can the stress analysts hope to maintain a professional level of command over the continually emerging and rapidly changing technologies.
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Assuming that a company can staff its stress analysis department with people having the above qualifications, it is still necessary to utilize the group and its facilities effectively for the good of the company. When this is done well, payoffs such as the following should total up to a very satisfactory return on the investment (ROI):
Products weight and material savings
Lower manufacturing and process costs
Reduced service, maintenance, and warranty expense
Decreased product liability exposure, and lower insurance costs.