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FMEA Corner 
This Month's Theme is How to Get Better Results with FMEAs, in Less Time
Next month's theme will be "Is there a better way than RPN?"

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.

"Time is money." - Benjamin Franklin



time [taim, noun]
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "time" as "the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues."

Common complaint about FMEAs

FMEAs have many well-known benefits, when done properly. One of the challenges for FMEA teams is to conduct their assigned FMEAs within the time available during the product development process. FMEA is a team-based activity, and subject matter experts have many tasks competing for their limited time.

One of the most common complaints about FMEAs is that they can take a long time to do. Most companies realize the importance of FMEAs and are committed to implementing FMEAs. However, time considerations are often paramount.

It is essential for successful FMEA implementation to ensure the in-meeting time that involves the subject matter experts is utilized in the most efficient and effective manner, with no time wasted. Techniques to reduce in-meeting time, while improving quality of results, should be pursued. 

What are some strategies to reduce FMEA in-meeting time?

Over the years, many excellent strategies have been used to keep FMEA in-meeting time as short as possible, without reducing the quality of results. In fact, many of these strategies, if properly applied, will improve the FMEA outcomes. The following is a partial list of such strategies.

1. Make sure the FMEA team fully understands the definitions and concepts of FMEAs

There is no substitute for learning and applying the fundamental concepts and definitions of FMEA. Even the most experienced FMEA practitioners should continue to improve their understanding of the basics. FMEA teams that that are led by someone who has a rock-solid grasp of fundamentals will avoid lengthy discussions on trivial topics and wrong procedures. 

2. Improve FMEA facilitation skills

FMEA facilitation is a different subject than FMEA methodology. Poorly led FMEA teams will not achieve excellent results. To be successful, FMEA leaders need to develop expert facilitation skills. FMEA teams that are led by a skilled facilitator will keep meeting discussions on topic and drive through the FMEA process without wasting time.

3. Use relational database software

Good relational database software, such as Xfmea, can reduce overall FMEA time, both in-meeting and out-of-meeting. It can accomplish this by providing instant retrieval of past FMEAs, easy access to a library of failure modes and other FMEA information, transfer of FMEA data to and from other applications, and simple entry screens that aid in real-time data entry during FMEA meetings.

4. Consider use of "Generic" FMEAs

Generic FMEAs contain up to 80% or more of anticipated and known failure modes, effects, causes and controls. This can save considerable time when a new or modified design or process is based on current design or process. Change point analysis identifies the nature of the changes and the FMEA team conducts the FMEA procedure on the changes to the generic FMEA.

5. Limit in-meeting discussion to areas of concern

It’s a good practice to limit failure modes to those of concern to at least one member of a properly constituted FMEA team. If one person has a concern, the issue is taken up by the team. But if no team member has a concern, the issue is not entered into the FMEA. This avoids in-meeting time on low-risk issues.

6. Do a thorough job of pre-meeting preparation

Preparation tasks include defining the scope of the FMEA project, making the scope visible (FMEA Block Diagram, P-Diagram, etc.), establishing the correct cross-functional team, identifying relevant assumptions and gathering all needed information. If any of these preparation tasks are missing, valuable in-meeting time will be wasted. 

7. Control in-meeting discussion

This is really a subset of the facilitation skills. One of the most common problems that team leaders have is keeping the discussion on topic and focused on risk, and limiting off-topic conversations. FMEA team leaders need to intervene when there are side discussions, or when the discussion is not beneficial to the objective.

8. Use sticky notes when brainstorming for new ideas

One way to harness the creative energy of the FMEA team is to use "sticky notes" at the beginning of the FMEA analysis in order to save valuable time spent in meetings. For each item’s function, ask the FMEA team to write sticky notes for the primary concerns they have, not emphasizing if the concern is worded as a failure mode, effect or cause. The writing of the notes is done concurrently and placed on a wall, easily visible to the FMEA team and organized into similar groupings.

9. Use pre-population, in selected circumstances

The FMEA Corner article in Issue 177 of Hotwire is titled "Discussing the Controversial Issue of FMEA Pre-population." As covered in this article:

Care must be exercised when considering pre-populating any portion of the FMEA. There are potential benefits and potential downsides to pre-population, and the team should be fully aware of the benefits and downsides.

Selective use of pre-population can speed up the in-meeting time. The referenced article discusses which portions of the FMEA can be pre-populated, and how to avoid the shortcomings.

Summarizing, the best FMEA facilitators use strategies like the above to reduce in-meeting time. The long-term success or failure of FMEAs in a company can depend in part on the perceived value the FMEA compared to the investment of the in-meeting time of the participants.


Use periodic process checks with your FMEA team and ask them if they have ideas how to save in-meeting time, without compromising the quality of results.

?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.

I have a question regarding the interpretation of DFMEA SEV 9 or 10. I have some difficulty in understanding and explaining about noncompliance to regulatory or government regulation. For example, if the product requires UL approval, does failure to meet this requirement result in a severity ranking of 9 or 10? What are examples of government regulations that would be result in 9 or 10?

Carl: Let me begin my answer to your question with an excerpt from AIAG v4 manual, for Design FMEA Severity Scale.


The reason that failure to meet regulatory requirements is so high on the AIAG v4 Design FMEA severity scale is due to the consequences of failing to meet government regulations. The penalties can be severe, and potentially include fines and suspensions that significantly impact the financial performance and reputation of a company.

Addressing your question "if the product requires UL approval, does failure to meet this requirement result in severity 10 or 9?"

UL is one of several companies approved to perform safety testing by the U.S. federal agency Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA maintains a list of approved testing laboratories, which are known as Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories. If a product has a UL requirement, and does not meet the requirement, the FMEA team should consider assessing severity ranking of 9 or 10. Severity 10 would be without warning and severity 9 would be with warning.

Regarding examples of government regulations, they are very numerous. Each country has its own agencies that maintain government regulations. In the United States, the "Code of Federal Regulations" (CFR) is the codification of the general and permanent rules and regulations published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government. The CFR is divided into 50 titles that represent broad areas subject to federal regulation.

One example that I selected randomly, of many thousands of examples, is Title 49, subtitle B, chapter III, subchapter A, part 325, "Compliance with interstate motor carrier noise emissions standards." The scope of this regulation is as follows: "prescribe procedures for inspection, surveillance, and measurement of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment operated by motor carriers to determine whether those vehicles and that equipment conform to the Interstate Motor Carrier Noise Emission Standards of the Environmental Protection Agency, 40 CFR part 202."

FMEA teams need to have participants who are familiar with government regulations that apply to the systems or products that are being analyzed.

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.