History of Reliability Part 1
Chris and Adam discuss the history of reliability engineering. Everyone (customer, manufacturer, builder) has different ideas of what reliability is. And this has changed throughout history. Perhaps we can learn something from what reliability engineering has also changed throughout history. As they say – those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. This is the first of three podcasts that look at the history of reliability for this purpose: seeing what we can learn to help reliability engineering now and tomorrow.
Join Chris and Adam as they discuss the history of reliability. Or more correctly – reliability engineering. Human beings make things that do what they are supposed to do for as long as we want them to. The way we have approached making things that work well over time has clearly changed over history. So let’s delve a little deeper to see if we can characterize different eras or epochs of reliability engineering and if there is anything we can learn from them.
When Chris and Adam talked about this, they come up with some ideas for different reliability engineering ‘epochs:’
- Epoch #1 – Over-engineering. Today, we are lucky to have access to a wealth of understanding of how things fail from a very scientific perspective. But this was not always the case. Cave-men and cave-women needed to construct stone axes that would last – but couldn’t do extensive testing on those axes in a laboratory. So they had to use their judgment to make strong axes by making them very, very robust. And this didn’t change for a very long time. There are machines, tools and buildings from the 1800s that work really, really well today (providing they were maintained). And they were all very big, heavy and robust. There is a reason we say they don’t make them like this anymore.
- Epoch #2 – World War I. World War I was really the first time where generational technological change started to happen more frequently than human generational change. Aircraft, weaponry, tank and explosive technologies were being developed so fast that what was once state of the art would very quickly become outdated and overmatched. So for the first time, the idea of not having to make tanks and other machines that you could one day give to your child meant we could make more of them (and get them much faster). But things sort of got stuck here for a bit … mainly due to the Great Depression.
- Epoch #3 – World War II. Technological change became faster and faster. Things like electronics became more important. And the thing about electronics is that you can’t see deterioration they way you can observe corrosion and cracking. So reliability engineering became formalized as its own discipline. Training and educational institutions started to offer reliability engineering-specific courses and lessons. And to some, this was the birth of reliability engineering as we know it.
- Epoch #4 – The Japanese Economic Miracle. There are several geopolitical factors that dominated how Japan emerged from World War II. But perhaps the most important element was that it became a technocratic society. With foreign funding and a blue sky cultural rebuild project, the best leaders (not the most popular or most connected people) rose to the fore and focused on turning Japan into a manufacturing power-house. Japanese manufacturing before World War II was notoriously poor quality. Not anymore. They focused on things that matter. They worked out how to make high-quality products. And they worked out how to embed this culturally. And it could be argued the rest of the world still hasn’t caught up. Think the Toyota Production System.
- Epoch #5 – The 1970s and customers wanting more. The 1970s oil crisis meant that western consumers started focusing on things like fuel economy for cars and product costs in a way that they never previously had to. Money was tight. And key supplies were rationed. So they had to do more with less. And with the emergence of Japanese vehicles into western markets … they realized they could start demanding more.
- Epoch #6 – 1980s and 1990s and computers. Now we could start solving some of the more complex reliability engineering equations and challenges. This allowed us to do some more sophisticated analysis – but it also took some of us away from focusing on good design principles. Has this been an overall good thing?
And what about the future? Perhaps we could anticipate …
- … an emergence of a new reliability engineering culture where businesses and other organizations do away with useless analysis and calculations and start linking performance (both product and human) to strategic objectives in a way that everyone gets and can buy into.
- … reliability of services such as product delivery, data provision and so on that sees reliability engineering stop being as focused on individual products or machines and more on the ultimate ‘success’ of a team of machines, humans, computers and mother nature!
- … big data that is useful and less of the buzzword it tends to be today.
What are your thoughts?
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