An effective product reliability process requires a strong team, at every level. The team of employees within an organization that participate and impact product reliability is a vast and widespread group of people. They include members of the design team, design managers, quality and reliability engineers and managers, procurement engineers and managers, warranty managers, failure analysis specialists, members of the marketing and sales staff, members of the finance and manufacturing teams, and field service and call center staffs.
The next few posts will deal with each of these roles, and the connection each position has in relation to product reliability. Some employees will have a much larger direct impact than others, but every participant has a crucial role when working to create and produce a reliable product. We’ll start with the design team.
It all comes down to design
To a large degree, the final performance of a product and product reliability relies on the skill of the product design team. The industrial, electrical, mechanical, and other design engineers attempt to create a product that operates as intended, providing the functionality the customer expects. Successful designs do this elegantly, balancing cost, performance, time to market, and reliability along with a long list of other considerations, such as sustainability, recyclability, safety, manufacturability, and maintainability.
The design team creates the solution that attempts to meet all the constraints. Most design engineers intuitively understand that a product that fails to function before the end of the customers’ expected operating duration is considered a failure. If a printer is expected to operate for five years in a home office environment and fails to print after two years, is has failed to meet the customers’ expectation of a five-year life. Design engineers generally design to avoid failures. [Petroski 1994] They use their judgment and experience to identify design weaknesses and to anticipate use conditions and the possible adverse effect on product performance.
Considering reliability in design
The reliability role of design engineers is to make design decisions that provide an acceptable balance among all the constraints and demands on the design along with the product reliability expectations. A key role for the design engineer is to determine and understand the risks to reliability performance. This role may include performing failure mode and effect analysis (FMEA) and HALTs, modeling, simulation, and prototype testing. It is the design engineer who often understands the elements of a design with the most unknowns, the most risk, and the least robustness. It is this knowledge that should prompt product testing, modeling, and simulations in order to understand the design decision options and strike the right balance for the final design and product reliability.