One of my more unfortunate memories of my early military career is the death of a soldier on a training exercise. I was posted to a place very close to the equator … along with the heat and humidity that came with it. The soldier who died suffered from heat stroke, brought on by dehydration. And when we looked back on what went wrong, a key issue was that the training exercise risk assessment was ‘word for word’ identical to previous risk assessments when it came to managing heat related illnesses.
Reliability in Emerging Technology
The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. We are constantly exposed to new and better products, services that are more efficient, and things that generally make our lives better.
But how long will they work for? … and will they be safe?
And we often get it wrong. Toyota vehicles of the early 2000s had a problem with their new electronic throttle control system that saw them accelerate without warning – reliability was not the priority it needed to be. But autonomous vehicles are perhaps faced with an over-abundance of caution bordering on trepidation, meaning that the 95 per cent of road deaths caused by human error are still happening as the technology ‘drives unused.’ And then there are the new products that you either never hear of or can barely remember because they barely worked long enough for customers to enjoy. Budding entrepreneurs forget that there is a difference between time to market and time to market acceptance.
So what are we to do? The answer involves a healthy dose of historic ‘reliability-principles’ with a blend of tailored approaches that goes (well and truly) beyond a ‘checklist’ or ‘compliance’ approach. So how do we get that mix right? That is the question.
Organizations are all about ‘success.’ Being ‘successful.’ Which can many different things to many different people. ‘Success’ is not simply the ‘antithesis of failure.’ One could argue that ‘mediocrity’ in many cases is accepted as the antithesis of ‘failure.’ ‘Mediocrity’ is hardly the same as ‘success.’
Organizational success means that a lot of different people need to be doing lots of very different, but very important things. And this often means things that can go unnoticed. The ‘one percenters.’ Getting things done right the first time.[Read more…]
I often start teaching my reliability engineering courses … by focusing on other reliability engineering courses. Why? Because they exemplify what is wrong with how most ‘reliability experts’ go about convincing others to take reliability seriously.
A typical reliability engineering course will start with images of disaster. A Chernobyl here. A Fukushima there. A crashed airplane. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Lots of other atrocities that happen when we don’t do reliability engineering properly.
I (like most of us) try to keep learning about stuff. And this includes (on occasion) listening to guys like Simon Sinek who has made a name for himself as an inspirational speaker and author. I learn a lot from some of his stuff. Most people like Simon are skilled at simplifying fundamentally ‘good’ ideas and principles into really simple messages that are easy to break through our sometimes cluttered brains.
We’ve all been ‘there.’ Watching the ‘mechanical’ design team lead go through 378 PowerPoint slides of suffocating technical content, pixelated iPhone pictures of bearing housings, and lists of ‘open’ items in fonts that are too small. There are ‘senior’ engineers wheeled in to ‘review’ but instead nod knowingly and ask sporadic questions about something they once designed ‘back in the day.’ And the chairperson will often ask our ‘mechanical’ design team lead if they are ‘on track.’
At the 2019 Annual Reliability and Maintainability Symposium, I was involved in a discussion with US Department of Defense (DoD) reliability engineering teams and industry representatives. And on the agenda was a review of an emerging document called the ‘Reliability and Maintainability Engineering Management Body of Knowledge.’ Let’s call this the ‘DoD RAM BOK’ for short.
I only had access to this document’s quick reference guide, and it suggests that the DoD RAM BOK describes what reliability engineering activities need to happen from ‘concept’ through to ‘operations’ for a typical military capability being introduced into service.
I was having a lunch meeting with a project manager, and the topic of outsourcing came up. Specifically, outsourcing the manufacture of a particular machine that would form part of a larger vehicle system. I asked him why he was doing this, particularly when for many years the predecessor to this machine was very successfully manufactured in-house. His answer was simple.
It was to transfer risk to a supplier. [Read more…]
There are plenty of reasons for renewable energy to become increasingly important. These reasons start with climate change and end with our unmistakably finite amount of fossil fuels buried in our fragile planet. One of the early criticisms of renewable energy was that it wasn’t cheap. Sure – the energy sources such as sunlight, wind and flowing water are inherently renewable, but the costs to manufacture and maintain all the equipment that extracts energy from these resources can be very high. [Read more…]
You can’t win wars where your allies are also your enemies
Steve Tengler from Forbes Magazine recently wrote about how Audi was improving the reliability and quality of its cars … by helping its suppliers. And while I wished he had a little more robustness behind his conclusions, he reinforced just how important it is to focus on who makes your products and not just what they make. [Read more…]
We often get sucked into drawn-out conversations (or heated debates) about the ‘true’ meaning of words. Especially when it comes to sports. Was James Harden (a basketball player) in the ‘act of shooting’ when he was fouled? It matters – because if the answer is ‘yes’ he gets up to three free throws. So what does the ‘act of shooting’ mean and who decides it? There will be endless debate over beers about what this means. Perhaps largely dependent on which team you support.
At the end of the day, it usually doesn’t matter. You can debate it as much as you want, but the referees have already decided what happened on the court. It is done. It is over. You can disagree with them. But nothing changes the score. [Read more…]
When I was working at a university, I was involved in a conversation with a representative of an energy company. He was having all manners of problems with a valve. It was failing too often. He wanted us to look at what we could do in terms of optimizing the preventive maintenance (PM) or servicing regime to hopefully fix these problems. But … there was a catch.
He had heard about ‘deep learning’ and ‘artificial intelligence’ from another university. And he wanted some of it. [Read more…]
If you have ever been involved in manufacturing or quality-related conversations, you may have heard of ‘Statistical Process Control’ or SPC. And if you Google SPC you will find a bunch of ‘textbooky’ definitions which are likely going to make you run away and never think of it again.
But you shouldn’t. [Read more…]
Good business isn’t knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing
(Association) football (or ‘soccer’ in some countries) is the world’s most popular sport. Most professional leagues (especially in Europe) have different tiers of competition where the bottom performers of one tier are ‘relegated’ to the next tier down at the end of each season, while the top performers of each tier are ‘promoted’ to the next tier up. This means that any club could feasibly work its way to the top tier of every league. [Read more…]
a breath of fresh air or something that has always been blowing in the wind?
Let’s just say you owned a house with a garden so big that you need someone to look after it for you. So, you find a professional gardener. And (because you have just graduated from a contract management course), you ask your gardener to sign a ‘traditional contract.’
A ‘traditional contract’ means (at least in this post) a contract with hundreds of clauses supposed to cover every possible future scenario. Do you host garden parties and want your gardener to spend 8 hours on your garden in the preceding week? There needs to be a clause for that. What happens if the gardener is sick? What happens if you don’t want the gardener in your garden between 2pm and 4 pm on Tuesdays because you have clarinet practice? What happens if your clarinet practice changes? What if you have 3 feet of snow? What flowers do you want planted in the spring? Our ‘traditional contract’ needs clauses for every scenario. [Read more…]
One of the enduring beauties and mysteries of reliability engineering is that there is no straight forward definition of who a reliability engineer is. Proactive, successful organizations, employ reliability engineers in many different and tailored ways. Reactive, ‘barely solvent’ organizations use reliability engineers as over-qualified auditors, expected to clap system configurations through design review gates as quickly and quietly as possible.
So what does this mean for you and your reliability engineering career? Are you in a position now that you are not entirely happy with? Are you in an industry on a downward trend … meaning that sooner or later you need to move to a greener pasture? Or do you want to become a better version of yourself and feel more valued than you currently do? [Read more…]