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FMEA Corner 
This Month's Theme is Can You Anticipate Everything?
Next month's theme will be "what is unique about a system FMEA?"

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.



an·ti·ci·pate [an-ti-si-pāt, verb]
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "anticipate" as "to think of (something that will or might happen in the future)."

ev·ery·thing [ev-rē-thiŋ, noun]
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "everything" as "all that relates to the subject."


Can you anticipate everything?
Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future. - Niels Bohr

In an FMEA, is it possible to think of everything that might happen in the future?

FMEAs are intended to anticipate potential risk and develop actions that will reduce risk to acceptable levels. However, as pointed out in an article written by Daniel Simons entitled "You Can’t Anticipate Everything," there is a danger in over confidence.

A standard approach to safety engineering is to try to define all of the potential risks in advance and to design protocols that, if followed precisely, will avoid all of the known hazards. Such safety-by-protocol is great in principle, but it has a critical failing: The illusion of knowledge. The approach assumes that we can know and anticipate all of the potential risks. 1

In theory, a properly constituted FMEA team, using proper FMEA procedure should be able to anticipate problems and recommend design or test improvements to reduce risk to an acceptable level. However, it is not impossible for something to be missed. This is why it is a good practice for FMEA to be performed as part of a comprehensive reliability program.

How can FMEAs maximize opportunities to anticipate risk?

My book, Effective FMEAs, presents many protocols and procedures that can enhance the potential to anticipate high-risk events and minimize the chance of missing them. Techniques such as brainstorming, divergent-thinking exercises, quality audits, facilitation skills, management reviews, lessons learned, case studies, high-severity protocols, correct FMEA team composition and other topics help to surface both anticipated and previously unanticipated events and occurrences.

However, no amount of skill will anticipate and prevent every possible problem and risk. Studying and following the best available procedures can bring previously unanticipated events to light and allow them to be properly addressed.

What role can Xfmea play in maximizing opportunities to anticipate risk?

There are many suggestions to maximize opportunities to anticipate risk using Xfmea. The following are a few that may be useful.

  1. Identify a list of "concerns" when preparing for new FMEA projects, and make the concerns easily available to the FMEA team while performing the FMEA. See FMEA Corner in Issue 176 of the Reliability HotWire for how to make concerns visible in the FMEA worksheet using Xfmea.

  2. Use phrase sets in Xfmea to highlight field failures. Every company experiences some field failures. The most successful companies do not repeat them. The FMEA team needs to ensure that a summarized list of field failures for similar products is easily available during the FMEA project. This listing of field failures can be "seeded" into the FMEA so the team ensures these failures do not repeat. Specifically, field failures for similar products can be uploaded to Xfmea phrase sets and used as input to failure mode identification in order to be sure that past problems do not repeat within the scope of the project.

  3. Use brainstorming in order to "think outside the box." Brainstorming is a technique for getting a flow of ideas on the table before making decisions. This technique is most useful when a decision or solution is not easily forthcoming. The purpose of brainstorming is to allow people to "put ideas on the table without fear of being corrected or challenged." For example, brainstorming can be used to establish actions to address higher risk failure modes and their associated causes. The FMEA team can brainstorm a list of potential actions and enter them directly into Xfmea's Recommended Actions column. This would need to be followed by evaluating and modifying the brainstormed actions, as needed. Or they can write the list of brainstormed actions in another medium, and enter only the evaluated and modified actions into Xfmea. 

  4. Once all of the primary functions have been entered into the Xfmea Functions column, the FMEA team can ask "what if" questions to help identify all potential failure modes. The "what if" questions can be listed in a Word document and attached for easy access by the FMEA team.

  5. One of the best ways to anticipate risk is through the use of diagrams. The following diagrams can be used to make the scope of the project visible and ensure the team does not miss important interfaces and other areas where risk can be missed. (It is important to understand when each of these diagrams are needed, as not all are used in an FMEA.)

    1. FMEA Block Diagram (see HotWire Issue 165)

    2. Parameter-Diagram (see HotWire Issue 182)

    3. FMEA Interface Matrix (see HotWire Issue 165)

    4. Functional Block Diagram (see HotWire Issue 183)

[1] D. Simons, "You can’t anticipate everything", Theinvisiblegorilla.com, 2010. [Online]. Available: http://theinvisiblegorilla.com/blog/2010/08/11/you-cant-anticipate-everything/. [Accessed: 06- Jul- 2016].



Request ideas from readers

I’d like to ask readers two questions. Please send your thoughts to my email address: carl.carlson@effectivefmeas.com.

  1. As FMEA practitioners, what techniques have you used to help ensure that all important risk issues are anticipated?
  2. How have you used Xfmea to support these techniques?


!FMEA Tip of the Month

During FMEA meetings, preliminary information can be entered into an FMEA in order to make ideas, concerns or brainstorming visible to the entire team. The FMEA team can then review and modify, as needed. Some people use font color or font type to identify preliminary information that has not yet been reviewed and agreed upon by the entire team. It is important to ensure that only information that has been agreed to by the entire FMEA team remains in the final version of the FMEA.

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

A HotWire reader submitted the following questions 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.)

Dear Mr. Carlson,

I’m currently working as FMEA trainer in an overseas factory. My job is to teach new engineering staffs to do proper FMEA assessment.

I purchased your book few weeks ago for reference and found it very helpful. However, I am still confused about severity rank 9 and 10, especially the terms 'with warning' and 'without warning.' Could you please give some examples?

Thank you very much.

Carl: Thanks for your question. I'll provide a couple of examples. (Please note that in an actual FMEA, severity ratings and other risk ratings would need to be assessed by a properly constituted FMEA team, within the context of the FMEA project.)

Design FMEA example (fictitious)

Vehicle brake pad has a feature that makes a loud noise when the pad is worn and needs to be replaced.

Failure mode: excessive brake pad wear; Effect: vehicle wheel does not slow down as quickly as it should, pad makes loud noise, vehicle loses braking power with potential for accident. Severity: 9 (Potential failure mode affects safe vehicle operation and/or involves noncompliance with government regulation with warning.)

If the brake pad did not have the loud noise feature, the severity would be 10 (Potential failure mode affects safe vehicle operation and/or involves noncompliance with government regulation without warning).

Process FMEA example (fictitious)

Plant paint system uses a compressor storage tank that has pressure sensor with alarm.

Failure mode: storage tank pressure too high; Effect: the high storage tank pressure will trigger alarm, and if not resolved the storage tank may rupture, potentially causing injury to operator. Severity: 9 (Potential failure mode affects safe vehicle operation and/or involves noncompliance with government regulation with warning.)

If the storage tank did not have the alarm feature, the severity would be 10 (Potential failure mode affects safe vehicle operation and/or involves noncompliance with government regulation without warning).

Let me know if this is helpful and answers your question.

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.