One of best features about working in reliability engineering is everything fails, eventually. This fact provides a bit of career stability.
Another aspect I enjoy is the concepts and approaches that create the foundation for reliability engineering knowledge do not change very much over time. The basics of reliability engineering are the same as when the earliest engineers began design structures and products.
What is Reliability Engineering?
I define reliability engineering as the discipline to optimize the system or product dependability in a cost effective manner.
We use tools, techniques, and knowledge to accomplish answers to two fundamental engineering questions.
- What will fail?
- When will it fail?
Reliability engineering includes design, manufacture, transport, installation, operation, maintenance, and retirement of systems and products. We work with design and manufacturing teams primarily, yet also work closely with procurement, suppliers, marketing, finance, and customers.
The focus for a reliability professional is on creating a product that meets or exceeds customer expectations with respect to reliability.
Building Block for Reliability Engineering
As with any profession, reliability engineers have a body of knowledge that in part defines the profession. We have a common language with other engineering disciplines since work so closely with them. Yet, we bring unique specific concepts to the table.
One set of tools (building blocks) we rely on is in the determination of what will fail.
Risk assessment includes applying our knowledge of failure mechanisms to identify weaknesses in a particular design when exposed to the use environment. Specific tools include failure mode and effect analysis, discovery evaluations, environmental and stress testing.
We work to understand failure mechanisms well enough to find engineering solutions (root cause analysis) plus to model and predict future failures (physics of failure modeling).
Our knowledge of failures permits us to assist the entire team to recognize likely failures and minimize their existence or mitigate their effect.
Another set of tools includes the resolution of when something will fail. Obvious this relies to a large extent on know what will fail.
The modeling tools of reliability block diagrams, physics of failure, field data analysis, and others provide means to estimate the future failure rate for a specific product.
The experimental and laboratory skills of environmental, stress, and life testing permit focus on specific failure mechanisms and evidence to support predictive modeling. I like to say “we break things” as a description of this part of our profession.
It is the mix of analytical and empirical approaches that permit us to learn and create suitably reliable products.
People skills are necessary
One more building block for successful reliability engineers is the ability to influence others.
We rarely work alone and rarely have the position to impose our recommendations. We support design and manufacturing teams and have to enable those engineers to make good decisions.
Having a solid grasp of the basic tools of reliability engineering is essential, and not sufficient.
Knowing how to work with other engineers, what drives them to make decisions, what they need to make a fully informed decision and what motivates them all to play a part in gaining influence.
Much of this we learned early in our life.
As engineers, providing the technical information is often not enough. We have to provide the information at the right time, to the right people in the right format. This changes with each group and encounter.
Learning to understand those we work with is possible to learn.
Building credibility based on your technical skills with the range of reliability tools is a great start. Gaining trust provides a means to engage in further discussion around reliability.
Obtaining influence is one result and may require regular attention and improvement.
The reliability engineering body of knowledge has basic concepts around understanding failure mechanisms and interpersonal influence. The specific knowledge required to be successful involves many fields of science and engineering with emphasis on those topics related to your system or product.
The basics of reliability engineering involve some concepts that are easy to master. It involved some tools that allow you to determine what and when something will fail. And, a basic element of reliability engineering involves working well with others.