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FMEA Corner 
This Month's Theme is The Philosophy of Effective FMEAs
Next month's theme will be "Preliminary Risk Assessment"

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. Please send your questions about any aspect of FMEAs to Carl.Carlson@EffectiveFMEAs.com. Your contact information will be kept anonymous and all questions will be answered, even if they are not featured in the FMEA Corner.



Special Request — A Note from the Author

I have begun receiving feedback from FMEA Corner readers and this is very much appreciated. I would like to hear from each of you. Please take a minute to let me know what you like about FMEA Corner and any changes you would like to see to make it more useful to you as an FMEA practitioner. You can respond directly to Carl.Carlson@EffectiveFMEAs.com, and your feedback will be kept confidential.

Thank you for your support.

phi·los·o·phy [fi-los-uh-fee, noun]
Philosophy is a theory or attitude that guides one's behavior.

What is philosophy, and what does it have to do with FMEA?

FMEA is a tool that exists in the larger framework of quality and reliability processes. If one’s approach to achieving quality and reliability is sound, then it will properly guide the use of the FMEA tool. Basing one's approach to FMEAs on wrong principles, such as fixing existing problems rather than anticipating and preventing them, or on incorrect objectives, such as "to fill out a form" or "to comply with a mandate," will reap unsatisfactory results.

The underlying philosophy of effective FMEAs can be summarized as follows:

Through the synergy engendered by the right team of experts, and by implementing correct and proven methods and procedures, problems can be anticipated and prevented resulting in safe and trouble-free products and processes, with the inherent risk in any system or process reduced to a very low level.

Using correct philosophy to guide FMEAs

In the book Effective FMEAs, more than a dozen philosophical guidelines are identified that drive the right objectives, resources and procedures for successful FMEA application. As an example, this month’s FMEA Tip and Problem highlight one of these guidelines:

Focus on problem prevention

Preventing problems saves money and improves products. Fixing problems is necessary when they occur, but is substantially more expensive than problem prevention. There is a different mindset in an organization that focuses on problem prevention; and the tools and timing are different. FMEA is a key tool to prevent problems before designs reach testing or processes reach the plant floor, and to improve tests and controls to be sure problems do not reach consumers. The emphasis for FMEA should be problem prevention.

!FMEA Tip of the Month

Currently planned prevention methods go in the prevention-type controls column. They are input to the occurrence ranking. Use the recommended actions column to identify and implement new prevention strategies to reduce risk.


Study the following FMEA excerpt for a projector lamp:


Problem: Which of the four recommended actions in this excerpt are supportive of a philosophy that focuses on prevention? Why? [Show/Hide Answer]

?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.

If a customer requires a product life to reach 1 million cycles, but the product cannot reach 1 million cycles without failure, may I use "life less than 1 million cycles" as a failure mode in the FMEA?

Carl: You have a good question about a failure mode occurring at a time that is less than the required life cycles. By definition, a Design FMEA considers the likelihood of failure during the design life of the product. In my opinion, a failure mode "less than required life cycles" is too general. I suggest that you define the primary functions of the product, and analyze how each of the functions can fail during the design life of the product. This will take into account any failures that occur at a time that is less than the required life cycles.

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 35 years of experience in reliability testing, engineering and management positions, and is currently supporting clients from a wide variety of industries, including clients of HBM Prenscia. Previously, 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 FMEAsSelected material for FMEA Corner articles 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. Carl Carlson can be reached at carl.carlson@effectivefmeas.com.