"This is clearly a fatigue fracture. There are obvious ridges in the fracture surface," says Gard Sviggum Saabye. This engineer with a master's degree in industrial mechanics from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) thinks it is exciting to study the fracture surface of a broken bolt, and his face lights up when showing us a chart of various types of metal fractures.
Right now, he is pointing at a picture that has been magnified 2,000 times.
To the untrained eye, the picture could just as easily have been taken on the surface of the moon. Fortunately, no one in DNV GL's damage group – the personnel at the Failure Investigation Laboratory – is untrained. Several of the industry's leading experts on materials and material properties work here. These are experts on why, and not least how, something breaks down. New engineers want to work here because of the knowledge to be found in the building and the long tradition of quality inherent in the DNV GL name.
"We find out why a component or structure failed. What we are looking for is often technically advanced, so you have to know what to search for. The work is very experience-based, combined with a unique methodology that we are the leaders in," says Saabye.
Within DNV GL, the section is called "CSI Høvik". Although the reality is far from that shown in the glossy TV series, they are absolutely detectives. When an accident occurs and everyone is asking questions, many people turn to the gang in the laboratory at DNV GL's headquarters in Høvik. Cases often concern huge amounts and costly production stoppages, and it is crucial to find out what when wrong and, not least, why.
"We must respect the fact that we are meeting people in what for them are unpleasant situations. So we have to be something that provides safety in the chaos," says Gard.
They find the reason for the fault by analysing material samples, looking at them under strong microscopes and interpreting clues. The materials are subjected to testing. A bolt may, for example, be put under stress thousands of times using severe forces in large rigs at the laboratory. This allows the Høvik detectives to find out how much the bolt can withstand.
And if there is not a method for testing something, they have to create one.
"I've learned everything about procedures, laboratory work and how to prepare samples here at DNV GL and the Failure Investigation Laboratory. Fortunately, I like to jump in and learn to swim along the way," says Saabye.
Learning from mistakes
The 32-year-old has worked for DNV GL's Failure Investigation Laboratory for six years. Right now, he is working on a contract to investigate damage abroad. Since a lot of what Gard and his colleagues at the Failure Investigation Laboratory do is sensitive, no more is said about this contract - other than that his work for DNV GL does entail flying sometimes.
"If it's not suitable to analyse the failure in the laboratory or if what has failed is quite simply too big, we have to travel to inspect it. In such case, we bring field equipment with us and conduct examinations at the site," he says.
Martin Strande started his career in DNV GL's laboratories too, almost 10 years ago. Today, he is in charge of 150 experts in various professions located at Høvik, Bergen and Stavanger. "Resolving complex problems requires both broad and deep expertise," he says.
"Failure investigation is an important tool in our work of taking the pulse of the industry. If we see the same failures repeatedly and in various companies, that's a sign that something should be done.
"DNV GL is world famous for developing rules and standards. A lot of this work starts at the Failure Investigation Laboratory. From that, a fracture in a bolt or wire can lead to greater learning and sometimes new industry standards relating to quality, safety and the environment."
Always someone who knows
Gard Sviggum Saabye has learned a lot from using the network of experts to be found in DNV GL, and enthusiastically describes the process of searching for answers to complex technical questions.
"There is always someone who knows the answer here. Always! And there is nothing that makes experts happier than being allowed to talk about what they are an expert in," he says.
Section Head Strande says that, since they work with customers in all kinds of industries and professional areas, they need both people with exceptional expertise in their subject and people who can manage to see the big picture.
"It's very rewarding to make conditions suitable for finding good solutions. That requires a culture where our employees understand the customer's situation, take ownership of the problem and genuinely want to deliver quality."