Caution! A sense of humor is required ahead! This article discusses an extremely controversial topic: failure! Perhaps failure isn’t necessarily controversial. The topic tends to stroke the sensitivities of reliability engineers and maintenance professionals because it is familiar and humans can be very opinionated about familiar topics. Allow me to get the outbursts out of the way now.
“You used the words effects and impacts in the same sentence!”
“You assume that because I don’t work in design, I must not understand how analysis works! I’m no dummy! FMEA/FMECA is FMEA/FMECA no matter where you use it!
“Never make assumptions!”
“You are simply recycling a topic that is talked about ALL THE TIME!”
If you are smiling or even laughing at this point, this article is for you. If you are not smiling or laughing at this point, I recommend seeking a different career path. If we can’t lightly discuss analysis, are we really nerdy enough for this line of work? Probably not.
The infamous Failure Mode, Effects, and Criticality Analysis (FMECA) is a fairly common reliability centered maintenance analysis. However, industrial practitioners traditionally employ FMECA post design for the logical reason that most reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) practitioners are buyers, maintainers, and managers of assets, not design engineers. There is no shame in missing out on the design action. In fact, most of us miss out on designing almost every asset in our lives, including those we toil the most to support. Design a car, house, or manufacturing system lately?
Ironically, some of us in the national defense industry never design the aforementioned assets but we participate in the acquisition of ships, planes, submarines, combat vehicles, and other complex weapon systems. In acquisition logistics, reliability engineers and product support management teams have the amazing opportunity to influence design and plan life cycle sustainment of complex assets. This opportunity should be given elevated priority if design agents and acquisition authorities wish to reduce design and sustainment risk.
The FMEA/FMECA provides an analysis of engineering design data and information to determine potential failure (modes), causes, effects, and impacts to components, assemblies, systems, and assets. From there, the reliability engineer or RCM analyst works with maintenance engineers and planners to recommend various forms of maintenance to curb the risk and prepare for probable corrective maintenance actions. The analysis provides an opportunity to recommend design changes to mitigate failures, causes, effects, and impacts at this point including alternative configurations, materials, and system parameters. The team also has the opportunity to drag human factors engineers into the mix and determine the ease of the prescribed maintenance by navigating design disclosures (3D models please) and analyzing the environmental context. This is extremely important for the future maintainer because analysts can argue over the perceived proximity to interferences, means of access to the component, whether a standard sized maintenance technician can sufficiently fit in the space, and whether the part can be manipulated in the given area (referred to as a maintenance envelope). Notice how we did something with the analysis and didn’t allow it to simply become another check in the box on the analysis checklist? Yeah, that takes a measure of intent. Be intentional about integrating your various analyses! Like I implied earlier, it’s one big party!
Who cares, right? Only RCM nerds or reliability and maintenance cats and dogs will find this worthwhile, correct? Well, this is extremely powerful information to analyze considering the ultimate goal of designing an asset is to deliver some defined operating value to the owner. Every time the asset experiences a failure it costs time and money to rectify. Often, the failure is significant enough to interrupt operations and budgets and let’s be honest, the owner/operator will be less than pleased with both interruptions. Imagine, if you will, we were able to reduce much of that risk, and plan resourcing and equipment downtime proactively rather than reactively while designing the asset. Spell it with me, R-C-M-(space)-d-u-r-i-n-g-(space)-d-e-s-i-g-n. (If you spelled that out loud, please see yourself quietly out of the room.)
Wait! Before you leave! Some readers may not be one of the lucky engineers, planners, or owner/operators hitherto mentioned. Perhaps you work in another product support element and are asking, “What me worry?”. As it turns out, the failures and the other data identified in the FMEA/FMECA are triggers for other product support efforts. Where there is maintenance, there is a demand for supply support, manpower, training, logistic and engineering technical data, procedures, budget, plans, and much more. The law of supply and demand is alive and well here. By reducing failures and planning appropriately, we reduce the impact to both the product support enterprise and the operator/owner.
At this point in the article, I’m fairly exhausted and you are without a doubt, underwhelmed. If you remember nothing else, remember that FMEA/FMECA can be powerful in design, especially if we use it to inform design decisions and product support plans. I close with a final bout of unsolicited advice: respect the value of the analysis and invest in good FMEA/FMECA software. You can start with FMEA/FMECA and build a respectable body of analysis with scalable software solutions that produce failure probability estimates, reliability reports, block diagrams, fault tree analysis, Level of Repair Analysis (LORA), and spares optimization. You can even employ modern root cause analysis software to help build logic trees during the identification of failure modes, effect, and impacts.
Now, please get out there, tell all the kids about RCM, reliability engineering, life cycle management, and the great challenge of logistics engineering and management! The greatest way to influence the design of future assets is to inspire the engineers and managers of the future. I’m sure you’d prefer I be relieved of my writing duties sooner rather than later.
Dr. Lucas Marino, D.Eng., PMP, CMRP is a systems engineer, life cycle engineer, and entrepreneur. He is the owner of EAST Partnership, a company focused on connecting businesses and individuals with training from industry-leading consultants. He also leads US Navy submarine product support efforts for Amentum, a premier global government and private-sector partner whose experience, passion and purpose drive mission success. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.