Reliability HotWire: eMagazine for the Reliability Professional
Reliability HotWire

Issue 13, March 2002

Hot Topics

Using Reliability Information Throughout the Organization 

The information generated via a reliability engineering program or from other life data analysis activities has a usefulness that extends beyond the group that generated it. It should seem obvious that information regarding the failure behavior of a product would be useful to many groups in an organization besides just reliability engineers. However, it is a sad but true fact that some organizations use the reliability information on their products for little more than a specification check. In this article, we will take a look at how life data can be used in other parts of a manufacturing or business organization.

One of the purposes of the Reliability HotWire is to briefly discuss some of the basic building blocks of a solid reliability engineering program. These steps are all very helpful in constructing a program that will efficiently gather information, transmit, store, analyze and report on product reliability. The process will not be the same for everyone, of course; the construction or enhancement of a reliability program will by necessity be specially adapted according to the specific needs and structure of the organization. As is the case with many other situations, "form follows function," and the form of the reliability program will follow the function of the organization that is implementing it.

However, it is necessary to make sure that the information that is generated by the reliability program is fed back throughout the organization so that the maximum benefits of the program can be achieved. Instituting a reliability program merely for the sake of having a reliability program will ultimately be of no benefit to anyone. If the reliability program is not feeding back useful information to all of the areas of the organization that need it, it will eventually atrophy and become just a little-utilized enclave of the larger organization. It is important to make sure that the reliability program's benefits reach all the areas that it can.

There are obvious benefits of having a good reliability program in place. Examples include feeding information back to manufacturing organizations to aid in maximizing the efficiency of the manufacturing process and performing system-level reliability analyses that can benefit the early stages of a development program. There are still other methods of putting reliability information to use in order to aid the organization beyond the obvious uses. We will take a brief look at some of these now.

Connecting Field and Lab Data
One of the most important activities that can be undertaken once a comprehensive reliability program is in place is to be able to model the transition between reliability data generated as a result of in-house testing and reliability data resulting from the performance of products in the field. We have discussed one way of "bridging the gap" between lab and field data in a previous article of the Reliability HotWire. The ability to bridge the difference between these two information sources lies within the grasp of an organization that has a good reliability program and an adequate amount of data. Although it requires a good deal of data manipulation and mathematical analysis, a model can be developed that will allow for the mapping of in-house reliability data to make accurate predictions of field performance. Obviously, this is a powerful tool that would have an important role in projecting warranty costs for new products and the planning of future programs.

Reliability Growth
Another use of the information that a reliability program provides is the implementation of a reliability growth study. There are numerous reliability growth models that can be used with a variety of types of input data. The diversity of reliability growth models and acceptable input makes this type of modeling very flexible, and it can be applied across a number of different functional areas in an organization. For example, the detailed parametric data generated during the development phase of a product can be used with a growth model in order to judge whether the project will meet its reliability goal within the allotted time. Based on the growth model results, more efficient allocation of resources on the project could be implemented based on the expected performance of the product. Similarly, a less-complicated growth model that accepts non-parametric data could be used to assess the change of field reliability as a result of design or manufacturing process changes once the product has been released. On a larger scale, the reliability growth of specific product lines can be modeled over the course of several generations of products in order to estimate the reliability and associated warranty costs of future product lines or projects that have yet to be implemented.

Optimum Design Level Determination
With a good grasp of the reliability of components and systems, it is possible to devise specifications and designs that result in the optimum level of reliability performance. Designing a product with inexpensive and unreliable parts will result in a product with low initial costs, but high support and warranty costs. On the other hand, over-designing a product with costly, highly reliable parts will result in a final product with low support and warranty costs, but that may be prohibitively expensive. Application of information from a reliability engineering program can result in a design that balances out both of these factors, resulting in a design reliability that minimizes the overall cost of the product. The following figure gives a graphical representation of this concept.

Graph of optimum reliability level

Marketing and Advertising
In the competitive marketplace, any edge in helping to find or increase the number of paying customers can result in sizable financial benefits. Given two competing products that are equal in all other respects, the edge belongs to the product that is more reliable. As products become more sophisticated, so do the customers, to the point where the reliability of a product is one of the main considerations a savvy customer takes into account before making a purchase. As a result, more and more advertising includes a reliability slant as part of the sales pitch. From computers to sewing machines, the reliability of the product is increasingly being used to market and sell a variety of products. Some advertisements are now including what were once considered "esoteric" reliability concepts such as MTTF (Mean Time To Failure) values. With a solid reliability program in place, the information can be used to help sell the product as well as to develop it. This is particularly true when data from a competitive assessment program can be used by sales and marketing groups to demonstrate that the organization's product is not only highly reliable but also much more reliable than the products of the competition.


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