A Blueprint for Implementing a Comprehensive Reliability Engineering Program

Section 1 of 7: Introduction

At the highest level, the purpose of a reliability engineering program is to test and report on the reliability of an organization's products. This information is then used to assess the financial impact of the reliability of the products, and to improve the overall product reliability and consequently the financial strength of the organization.

Reliability assessment is based on the results of testing from in-house labs and data pertaining to the performance results of the product in the field. The data produced by these sources is used to accurately measure and improve the reliability of the products being produced. This is particularly important as market concerns drive a constant push for cost reduction. However, it is important to keep "the big picture" in mind, rather than merely looking for the quick fix. It is often tempting to cut corners and save initial costs by using cheaper parts or cutting testing programs. Unfortunately, cheaper parts are usually less reliable, and inadequate testing programs can allow products with undiscovered flaws to get out into the field. A quick savings in the short term by the use of cheaper components or small test sample sizes will usually result in higher long-term costs in the form of warranty costs, or loss of customer confidence. The proper balance must be struck between reliability, customer satisfaction, time to market, sales and features. Figure 1 illustrates this concept. The polygon on the left represents a properly balanced project. The polygon on the right represents a project in which reliability and customer satisfaction have been sacrificed for the sake of sales and time to market.

Figure 1: Graphical representation of balanced and unbalanced projects

Figure 1: Graphical representation of balanced and unbalanced projects

As this figure illustrates, a proper balance must be struck between product reliability and the other aspects of the business, including time-to-market, manufacturing costs, sales, product features and customer satisfaction. Through proper testing and analysis in the in-house testing labs, as well as collection of adequate and meaningful data on a product's performance in the field, the reliability of any product can be measured, tracked and improved, leading to a balanced organization with a financially healthy outlook for the future.

 

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