Reliability engineering has value. It can improve product reliability, increase uptime, and drive customer satisfaction, for example.
Here are a couple of stories based on real situations that resulted in significant value for the organization.
Reducing the Cost of Field Failures
A telecommunications test device company created a low volume very expensive test system.
Approximately 50% of units delivered failed on installation. This resulted in replacing the unit, troubleshooting and diagnostic work, rework & retesting, and significant degradation of customer satisfaction.
One of the primary reasons for the failures was solder joints for poorly attached discrete components. Continuing the 5 whys process, they resolved that the novel solder attachments (see figure 1 for examples of alternative component placements) were due to the procurement managers desire to save material costs by not buying prototype circuit boards. The alternatives made it possible to achieve the desired capacitance or resistance without altering the PCA.
The circuit board cost $50k each and annual production for a specific product and it’s circuit board generally was less than 50 units. With the small volume, the cost of setup dominated the cost of the boards, thus by buying all 50 units with one setup significantly reduced the per unit cost.
The cost reduction was part of the procurement teams business objectives. Reducing PCA setup costs was an obvious action to allow the team to easily meet their cost reduction goal. The cost of field failures did not impact the procurement team directly.
The reliability engineer on the team estimated the cost of a single failure and the likelihood of component failures if they were properly mounted to the PCA. And quickly determined the savings of approximately $100k on materials costs resulted in approximately $10million of annual warranty related costs. Once highlighted to senior management, the procurement team began to understand the importance of prototype boards despite the material costs involved.
Improving Market Share
A medical device company struggled to launch a product without significant field reliability issues. The did work diligently to resolve problems identified in the field. Market share declines were due to the inability to meet adequate reliability expectations at product launch.
The team decided to focus on designing and building a reliable product. To do so they created a specific reliability project plan for a new product in development. The product was new technology for the company and filled a hole in their product portfolio. It was an opportunity to both learn design for reliability and reestablish credibility in the market.
The specific tasks related to identifying failure mechanisms and estimating product life due to failures of dominate failure mechanisms. They set and apportioned reliability goals and worked with suppliers to source reliable parts. They designed and executed a series of accelerated life tests for areas with the highest risk. And, they identified the assembly steps with the highest risk and developed control systems to monitor and improve those processes.
A few months after the launch, when they would typically have many product returns they decided to call customers to determine the product’s performance. They had not received any returns in the first three months for the new product. The customers were impressed, market share started to increase.
The design and manufacturing teams applied the lessons learned to existing and new products. They continued to improve their product field reliability and their market share. Currently, they enjoy significant market share in a highly competitive marketplace and regularly receive feedback that the reliability of their products makes the buying choice obvious.
What can an improved product reliability provide your organization?