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FMEA Corner 
This Month's Theme is Parameter Diagrams (P-Diagrams)
Next month's theme will be functional block diagrams

Every month in FMEA Corner, join Carl Carlson, a noted expert in the field of FMEAs and facilitation, as he addresses a different FMEA theme (based on his book Effective FMEAs) and also answers your questions.

Questions and answers are a great way to learn about FMEAs, for both experienced and less experienced FMEA practitioners. Please feel free to ask any question about any aspect of FMEAs. Send your questions to Carl.Carlson@EffectiveFMEAs.com, and your contact information will be kept anonymous. All questions will be answered, even if they are not featured in the FMEA Corner.



pa·ra·me·ter [puh-ram-eh-ter, noun]
The Oxford English Dictionary defines "parameter" as "a numerical or other measurable factor forming one of a set that defines a system or sets the conditions of its operation."

di·a·gram [dai-uh-gram, noun]
The Oxford English Dictionary defines "diagram" as "a simplified drawing showing the appearance, structure, or workings of something; a schematic representation."

What is a P-Diagram?

[Excerpt from Effective FMEAs]

J. M. Juran explains the concept behind P-Diagrams in his book Quality Planning and Analysis, in the chapter "Designing for Basic Functional Requirements." Juran says, "The most basic product feature is performance, i.e. the output — the color density of a television set, the turning radius of an automobile. To create such output, engineers use principles to combine inputs of materials, parts, components, assemblies, liquids, etc. For each of these inputs, the engineer identifies parameters and specifies numerical values to achieve the required output of the final product."

"The Parameter Diagram (P-Diagram) takes the inputs from a system/customer and relates those inputs to desired outputs of a design that the engineer is creating, also considering non-controllable outside influences." It is a useful tool in brainstorming and documenting input signals, noise factors, control factors, error states and ideal response.

When is a P-Diagram used?

A P-Diagram is an optional step when preparing for a System or Subsystem FMEA. It is most useful when the item under analysis is a complex system with many system interactions, operating conditions and design parameters, and the team will benefit from seeing these elements visually. It is a time-intensive step, but can provide great value in understanding and controlling the system, and identifying input to the FMEA. A P-Diagram can also be used when preparing for a Component FMEA, if the FMEA team believes there is sufficient value in visually representing inputs, ideal response and noise/control factors.

What does a P-Diagram look like?

The following is an example of a P-Diagram, with an explanation for each of the elements.


P-Diagram definitions

Input Signals are a description of the energy sources required for fulfilling the system functionality, such as speed, acceleration, input torque, etc.

Control Factors are typically the system design parameters that the engineering team can change, such as shaft diameter, stiffness, density, hardness, etc.

Error States are any kind of inherent loss of energy transfer or other undesirable system outputs, such as exhaust gases, heat, vibration, leakage, unusual noise or bad odor.

Noise Factors are things that can influence the design but are not under the direct control of the engineer, such as piece-to-piece variation, normal degradation of materials or equipment over time, intended and unintended customer usage, foreseeable environmental conditions and system interactions. These noise factors, if not protected against, can make the design ineffective; in other words, the design should be robust against the expected noise factors.

Ideal Response is the primary intended functional output of the system, such as output torque, etc.

How do the various elements of P-Diagram map to FMEA?

The elements (boxes) of the P-Diagram can be associated with the elements of FMEA in the following manner.

Input Signals are helpful as part of System FMEA preparation. They help the FMEA team understand the nature of the system being analyzed. Individual inputs can be associated with ideal responses (intended outputs of the system).

One of the applications of Control Factors is to identify significant product characteristics, which are the direct output of a given manufacturing operation. Key Product Characteristics (KPCs) are a subset of significant product characteristics, and are designated by the company for highlighted attention. They require follow up in the Process Control Plan and usually have their own approval process. KPCs map to the Classification column of the FMEA. Control factors can also be used to help the FMEA team identify potential cause descriptions in the FMEA.  

Error States can be considered as input to failure mode descriptions.

Noise Factors can map to the FMEA in several different ways.

Piece-to-piece variation is uncontrollable variation in parts or manufacturing process. Recall the FMEA Corner article on Ground Rules and Assumptions. In this article, one of the assumptions to consider is, for Design FMEAs, whether the FMEA team assumes the product will be manufactured or assembled within engineering specifications, and whether they wish to consider an exception, such as that the part design may include a deficiency that could cause unacceptable variation in the manufacturing or assembly process.

Piece-to-piece variation in the P-Diagram can be input to the assumptions in the System FMEA.

Change over time identifies anticipated degradation of components or materials that are part of the system. In the FMEA, these can be useful inputs to failure mode descriptions and can help identify the specific failure mechanisms that are associated with cause descriptions.

Customer usage/duty cycle documents how the customer uses the system, either intended or unintended. These are assumptions that are part of FMEA preparation.

External environment is the set of anticipated environmental conditions that the system must operate within. Similar to customer usage/duty cycle, these are assumptions that are part of FMEA preparation.

Ideal Response represents the primary intended outputs of the system. These are input to the FMEA function descriptions.

!FMEA Tip of the Month

One of the applications of noise factors is to be certain that the system design is robust in spite of each of the noise factors. A good suggestion is to identify a one- or two-sentence robustness strategy for each of the noise factors that you are concerned about in your P-Diagram.

?Something I’ve always wanted to know about FMEAs
The important thing is not to stop questioning. - Albert Einstein

A reader submitted the following question to Carl Carlson. To submit your own question about any aspect of FMEA theory or application, e-mail Carl at Carl.Carlson@EffectiveFMEAs.com. (All questions and responses will be kept anonymous).

First of all, thanks for sharing your expertise on FMEA in the "FMEA Corner."

My question/observation is related to the "Team Composition." I agree with you that one big issue is that very often there are not the right experts around the table. However, in my opinion another common problem is that very often there is no good (and "independent") facilitator leading the FMEA. I think this has a huge impact on the overall FMEA effectiveness.

Could you share your opinion/experience on that?

Carl: I agree with your premise that lack of skilled facilitation of an FMEA team may lead to less than optimum results and the FMEA team not achieving their full objectives. I look at FMEA facilitation as a different skill set that FMEA expertise. I want a skilled facilitator leading an FMEA, where possible. If you have a copy of my book, I cover the importance of the facilitator and the specific skills of FMEA facilitation in Chapter 10.

Regarding the "independence" of the FMEA facilitator, I’ll draw on the following excerpt to help illustrate this topic.

The facilitator is not a passive position but a pro-active role also encompassing general leadership skills. Some companies have tried introducing FMEA facilitators in a passive or "neutral" role, not offering their own expertise or opinions concerning the content of the FMEA. Best practice is the FMEA team led by a trained and experienced facilitator who also brings his or her own subject matter expertise to the meetings. For example, the FMEA facilitator might be a reliability or quality engineer; in addition to facilitating the FMEA process and the team meetings, this person also brings reliability or quality expertise to the meetings and has opinions to offer on the content of the FMEA. In order to perform these dual roles, the facilitator must be well skilled in facilitation techniques.

About the Author

Carl S. CarlsonCarl S. Carlson is a consultant and instructor in the areas of FMEA, reliability program planning and other reliability engineering disciplines. He has 30 years of experience in reliability testing, engineering and management positions, and is currently supporting clients of ReliaSoft Corporation with reliability and FMEA training and consulting. Previous to ReliaSoft, he worked at General Motors, most recently senior manager for the Advanced Reliability Group. His responsibilities included FMEAs for North American operations, developing and implementing advanced reliability methods and managing teams of reliability engineers. Previous to General Motors, he worked as a Research and Development Engineer for Litton Systems, Inertial Navigation Division. Mr. Carlson co-chaired the cross-industry team that developed the commercial FMEA standard (SAE J1739, 2002 version), participated in the development of SAE JA 1000/1 Reliability Program Standard Implementation Guide, served for five years as Vice Chair for the SAE's G-11 Reliability Division and was a four-year member of the Reliability and Maintainability Symposium (RAMS) Advisory Board. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan and completed the 2-course Reliability Engineering sequence from the University of Maryland's Masters in Reliability Engineering program. He is a Senior Member of ASQ and a Certified Reliability Engineer.

Effective FMEAsMaterial for the FMEA tips, problems and solutions is excerpted from the book Effective FMEAs, published by John Wiley & Sons, ©2012. Information about the book Effective FMEAs, along with useful FMEA aids, links and checklists can be found on www.effectivefmeas.com.