Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) is methodology for analyzing potential reliability problems early in the development cycle where it is easier to take actions to overcome these issues, thereby enhancing reliability through design. FMEA is used to identify potential failure modes, determine their effect on the operation of the product, and identify actions to mitigate the failures. A crucial step is anticipating what might go wrong with a product. While anticipating every failure mode is not possible, the development team should formulate as extensive a list of potential failure modes as possible.
The early and consistent use of FMEAs in the design process allows the engineer to design out failures and produce reliable, safe, and customer pleasing products. FMEAs also capture historical information for use in future product improvement.
Types of FMEA’s
There are several types of FMEAs, some are used much more often than others. FMEAs should always be done whenever failures would mean potential harm or injury to the user of the end item being designed. The types of FMEA are:
System – focuses on global system functions
Design – focuses on components and subsystems
Process – focuses on manufacturing and assembly processes
Service – focuses on service functions
Software – focuses on software functions
Historically, engineers have done a good job of evaluating the functions and the form of products and processes in the design phase. They have not always done so well at designing in reliability and quality. Often the engineer uses safety factors as a way of making sure that the design will work and protected the user against product or process failure.
As described in a recent article:
FMEA’s provide the engineer with a tool that can assist in providing reliable, safe, and customer pleasing products and processes. Since FMEA help the engineer identify potential product or process failures, they can use it to:
Develop product or process requirements that minimize the likelihood of those failures.
Evaluate the requirements obtained from the customer or other participants in the design process to ensure that those requirements do not introduce potential failures.
Identify design characteristics that contribute to failures and design them out of the system or at least minimize the resulting effects.
Develop methods and procedures to develop and test the product/process to ensure that the failures have been successfully eliminated.
Track and manage potential risks in the design. Tracking the risks contributes to the development of corporate memory and the success of future products as well.
Ensure that any failures that could occur will not injure or seriously impact the customer of the product/process.
Benefits of FMEA
FMEA is designed to assist the engineer improve the quality and reliability of design. Properly used the FMEA provides the engineer several benefits. Among others, these benefits include:
Improve product/process reliability and quality
Increase customer satisfaction
Early identification and elimination of potential product/process failure modes
Prioritize product/process deficienciesCapture engineering/organization knowledge
Emphasizes problem prevention
Documents risk and actions taken to reduce risk
Provide focus for improved testing and developmentMinimizes late changes and associated cost
Catalyst for teamwork and idea exchange between functions
Credit: Schuster Engineering & NPD Solutions