At the start of class on reliability and maintenance engineering, one of the students asked,
“What is reliability engineering? What do you do?”
This made me think. What is it we do? How to you explain to someone our role?
I like to say, “We break things” with a big wink and a smile. And to some extent, as we explore what fails and how it fails. We most likely have to test our theories and break something. Or, when working with new product designs we employ tools to discover what will break. So, I suppose part of what we do is break things. Yet, that is not a complete answer.
We are interested in failures. Generally, we attempt to avoid or delay failures, thus making product work longer. Our interest in failures is two-fold:
- What will fail?
- When will it fail?
We work with design or maintenance teams to identify failures and their causes so we can avoid, delay or mitigate those failures.
To accomplish these tasks we use a wide range of tools and work across the entire product lifecycle and organization. We use risk analysis techniques, exploratory experiments, accelerated life testing, modeling, process control techniques, product and process testing, root cause analysis and field data analysis to name just a few areas reliability engineers work. We work with software, hardware, and human factors aspects of a product. We work with line operators, design teams, vendors, failure analysts and all levels of management.
We coach, teach and mentor others in the organization on how to make decisions including the impact on reliability. Actually, most of the reliability engineering work is best done by others in the organization, we often are there to support them as they design, build and maintain products. We bring expertise and experience to solve problems related to product failure. If we create a proactive reliability culture in an organization, we focus on avoiding failures.
Reliability engineering to me is working to determine what will fail and when it will fail. We then spend quite a bit of time working with others to avoid or delay failures. In short, we make products and equipment last longer.