What is reliability management? Reliability Engineering? Would a product design or an organization benefit with a focus on reliability management and engineering? What is the value of a focus on reliability?
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What is reliability management? Reliability Engineering? Would a
product design or an organization benef it with a f ocus on reliability
management and engineering? What is the value of a f ocus on
Any organization, that develops and produces products, has
resource limits. It may be talent, capabilities, time, f unding, or some
combination of these. Yet, the goal to create a product that meets
customer expectations includes the concept of product reliability.
The product should provide the expected f unctions over time,
without f ailure. This expected product reliability occurs, even if the
design requirements and advertising do not explicitly mention
For example, consider a laptop that needs a new power supply.
When this situation came up, my f irst thought was how old the
machine was. Is it still under warranty? Then my thoughts turned to
the inconvenience of either being without my laptop during the
repair period, or the hassle of moving over to a new machine. If the
machine was only a f ew months old, it would likely still be under
warranty, yet my dissatisf action would be higher. It shouldn’t have failed so soon.
If the machine was f ive years old, that’s a dif f erent story. I’d have had many years of use and if this was the
f irst f ailure, I’d have gotten a lot of value. Besides, it may well be time to upgrade to a new machine. The
inconvenience of a repair or new machine, while not totally alleviated, is still much less.
Value of Product Reliability
The primary value of product reliability is in meeting the customer’s expectation that the product will work as
intended f or suf f icient time. The market rejects products that f ail of ten, and desires products that ‘just work’.
Creating a reputation f or a reliable product assists in increasing sales.
An extension of the value that consumers place on reliability is the willingness to pay a premium f or products
with high reliability. Automobiles, computers, printers, appliances and test equipment are all examples where
products known f or high reliability charge a premium. Its worth it, as the cost of downtime during a f ailure more
than outweighs the additional purchase expense.
For the business creating a reliable product, it creates value in a similar manner. Products that are sought af ter
and command a price premium lead to higher sales and higher prof it margins. Additionally, the lower f ailure
rates reduce the warranty expenses, which f urther increases the prof it margin. Yes, it may cost more in
materials to create a durable product, but it returns rewards of higher customer satisf action, market share, and
prof it margin.
Reliability engineering is an engineering f ield that deals with the study, evaluation, and lif e-cycle
management of reliability: the ability of a system or component to perf orm its required f unctions under stated
conditions f or a specif ied period of time.
Reliability engineering includes the use of statistics, data analysis, experimental design, customer and
environmental surveys, component and product testing, f ailure analysis, design, manuf acturing, procurement,
and at times marketing and f inance. It is a broad set of skills, and the proper application of reliability tools and
techniques generally permit an organization to create a reliable product.
I like the role due the span of tasks and disciplines. While some reliability engineers will specialize on one area
of the f ield, say accelerated testing, others may f ind a role that spans nearly every f unction within an
organization. The ability to inf luence and create a product the meets the customer’s reliability perf ormance
expectations is both challenging and rewarding.
The oversight and control of reliability activities is a management role. Some organizations have a dedicated
reliability manager, others a senior reliability engineer, and in others reliability management is part of the
organizations management f unctions. There is no one right way to organize to accomplish improved product
reliability. It is more the f ocus, brought across the organization, on the impact of decisions on the resulting
product’s reliability perf ormance. The management of reliability, like reliability engineering, may involve working
closely with many f unctions throughout an organization.
Reliability engineering and management are very similar. The f ormer works to implement activities and analysis
that enables the creation of a reliable product. The latter does the same though the allocation of resources to
enable the right activities and analysis.
The organization that includes reliability considerations (i.e. requirements, predictions, risks, evaluations,
analysis) deliberately and uses the inf ormation to guide decisions across the organization will create reliable
products. Those that ignore or isolate reliability to a limited role within the organization are less likely to create
a reliable product. The actual individual titles are less important than the reliability engineering activities and
decisions. The reliability engineering skills are part of any engineering discipline; with some practice and
encouragement nearly all engineers have the capability. The management skills are similar to any other product
producing organizational set of skills. The ability to coordinate activities, allocate resources, and f ocus on
reliability is augmented with a solid understanding of reliability engineering tools and techniques, just with any
other management task.
See also articles on ALT, Derating, and HALT Value.
How is your organization addressing product reliability? Do decisions include the impact on product reliability?
Do you see the value?
 < Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (1990) IEEE Standard Computer Dictionary: A Compilation
of IEEE Standard Computer Glossaries. New York, NY ISBN 1-55937-079-3>