5 Industrial engineering disasters

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Read on for five devastating industrial engineering accidents and their causes.


January 15, 1919, Boston, USA.  A 5 storey high steel storage tank filled with 8 million litres of molasses burst, sending a 5m high and 50m wide wave of sticky molasses through the streets, travelling at over 50km/hour, destroying everything it touched.  21 people were killed and 150 injured.  Damage reached $100 million in today’s money.  Clean up took 87,000 man hours.

The tank had been filled to near capacity and the molasses had likely fermented, producing carbon dioxide that raised the pressure inside the tank.

After examination of pieces of shattered tank it was found that the steel was too thin and was held together with too few rivets.   Little to no engineering advice was sought at the time.

Molasses is almost 1.5x the weight of equivalent volume of water.