The microscopic details of a material’s structure often dictate the material’s bulk mechanical and corrosion resistance properties. Microstructural analysis, or metallography, also provides metallurgists and materials engineers critical information about how a material has been processed and can identify flaws within the material that may or may not be critical to its performance.
Most engineering materials have been designed on a microstructural level to perform to a specified level of strength and ductility. Evaluation of the microstructural characteristics, such as grain size, inclusion size and distribution, weld heat affected characteristics, rolling direction, and phase presence and distribution is critical to predicting if a material will perform as designed. Microstructure examination is also critical in failure analysis investigations where the in-service performance of a material is being investigated. In these cases, not only does the microstructure provide information about how the material was made, but it also provides information about the service conditions the material has experienced, such as high temperature exposure, corrosive environments, and high mechanical stresses.