Reliability HotWire

Issue 77, July 2007

Hot Topics
Using FMEA Templates to Speed Up and Improve the Quality of FMEA or RCM Analyses

When used properly as a brainstorming tool, FMEA Templates can be very effective to reduce the time required to perform an FMEA or RCM analysis. In addition, they can provide an arguably even more important benefit by helping to improve the depth and quality of the analysis to better facilitate decision-making. This article describes how FMEA Templates can be used to speed up and improve the quality of an FMEA or RCM analysis and presents a brief summary of the ways that ReliaSoft's Xfmea, RCM++ and/or FMEA Accelerator products can be used to support such analysis techniques.

The Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) methodology has been used for many years in many different industries to help analysts to understand the potential failure modes in a design, then to evaluate the risk posed by those failures and identify the most appropriate corrective actions. The same analysis technique is a central component of the Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) analysis methodology, which has also proven to be effective for developing safe, reliable and cost-effective maintenance policies for equipment. In both cases, the analysis process can be labor-intensive and time-consuming to perform correctly, causing many analysts to be eager to find ways to reduce the time required to complete their analysis projects.

Approaches that may speed up the process but result in poor quality analyses that do not effectively support decision-making are, of course, not recommended. However, at least one technique, the proper use of FMEA Templates, has been used effectively by many analysts not only to accelerate the analysis process but also to improve the quality and usefulness of the analysis to improve the design or maintenance strategy.

FMEA Templates
In the context of this article, "FMEA Template" refers to a generic analysis that has been prepared in advance by analysts who are experts in the FMEA analysis methodology and familiar with the type of component or equipment for which an organization may wish to perform a specific FMEA or RCM. It contains general descriptions of typical functions, failures, effects and root causes that have been observed or anticipated by the subject matter experts who prepared the template. In some cases, it may also contain general information about potential mitigation strategies that have proven effective in the past.

For example, a template to be used for performing an RCM analysis on a pump might consist of generic descriptions such as the following:1

  • Function: Move X fluid while maintaining Y flow rate.
    • Functional Failure: Pumps less than the required flow rate. Suction valve partially closed.
      • Effect: Process impact and pump impeller damage.
        • Cause: Valve component damage.

Such templates might be prepared internally within the organization by engineers who have performed a large number of FMEAs and wish to share their experience in an organized fashion with engineers who will perform analyses on similar items in the future. Likewise, high quality analysis templates may also be prepared by consultants who have extensive subject matter expertise and a great deal of experience with facilitating FMEAs for a variety of clients.

Using FMEA Templates as a Brainstorming Tool
Of course, it is highly unlikely that a particular FMEA Template will have been prepared for exactly the same item used in exactly the same operating context as the one that the organization wishes to analyze. Therefore, in most if not all situations, an FMEA Template cannot be used to completely replace the organizations own specific analysis effort. Rather, the most appropriate way to use an FMEA Template is as a brainstorming tool to speed up and improve a specific analysis that the organization needs to complete. There are many ways that this could be accomplished depending on the situation and the work process of the particular analysis team. One possible approach is to use the Template as a starting point for the analysis and then delete portions that are not applicable for the specific analysis, modify other portions to make them fit the specific situation more closely and finally to add information that was not included in the Template but is relevant to the particular analysis being performed. Another approach is to use the Template data in the form of "pick lists" so that the analysis team can browse through the information and select portions to insert into the current analysis whenever appropriate.

For example, when an organization begins to perform an RCM analysis for a specific pump in a specific operating context, the analysis team could review an FMEA Template like the one referenced above in order to determine which functions and failures might be applicable to their own particular analysis. Relevant descriptions could be imported and adjusted to meet the specific situation. The team would then add any relevant functions and/or failure modes that were not anticipated by the Template and also perform the risk analysis and identify the mitigation efforts that are appropriate for the specific circumstance.

Some of the benefits of using an FMEA Template as a brainstorming tool include:

  • Saves the time that would have been required to identify and enter the basic functions and failures that are common to most items of a particular type.
  • Expands the depth and breadth of the engineering experience that goes into performing the analysis by ensuring that the analysis team considers specific functions or failure modes that they may not have thought of on their own (or that would have taken more time to arise in the discussion).
  • Helps to ensure consistency of data entry if commonly occurring descriptions are always imported from Templates rather than entered manually.

Xfmea, RCM++ and FMEA Accelerator
ReliaSoft's Xfmea software facilitates analysis, data management and reporting for all types of FMEA/FMECA analysis. The companion RCM++ software provides full support for RCM analysis and data management. Both products provide a variety of tools to help analysts to find and re-use data from existing analyses when applicable, thereby providing extensive support for the Template-based approach to FMEA or RCM analysis. Available tools include but are not limited to the following:

  • Import Spreadsheets: A choice of four Excel templates that can be used to import function, failure, effect, cause and related data directly from outside data sources. Most delimited file formats for this type of data can be converted to one of the import spreadsheets with a reasonable amount of effort.
  • Import Items and/or FMEA Utility: Allows the user to browse for and import all or portions of an existing FMEA.
  • Import Wizard: Allows the user to search for and import existing FMEA(s) using up to three keywords and Boolean operators to identify the item of interest.
  • Bulk Add / Select Existing Utility: Allows the user to search for and select existing function, failure, effect, cause or related descriptions directly from an existing analysis or Template.
  • Copy/Paste: Allows the user to easily copy/paste portions of one analysis into another analysis.

All of the capabilities mentioned above can be used to access FMEA Template data that is stored in outside data files, existing analyses that have been performed in Xfmea/RCM++ and/or pre-defined Phrase Sets that have been prepared by users within the software. In addition, with the release of CRV 4.0.2 in April 2007, both Xfmea and RCM++ can now be integrated with a new resource, the FMEA Accelerator FMEA Template Collection. This database-driven knowledge base provides a selection of FMEA templates for a wide variety of components. These Templates were prepared by experienced analysts who are knowledgeable about the components and the failure mode analysis process and can be purchased by collection or individually, depending on the organizations particular needs.

1. These particular descriptions have been copied from one of the FMEA Templates available in the MRG Physical Asset FMEA Collection, prepared by Management Resources Group (MRG) and available for purchase via the FMEA Accelerator.

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