In light of the International Day of Failure, Oct 13th, let’s consider failure from a reliability engineer’s point of view. We work to understand and avoid product failures. When a product fails to deliver the desired performance attribute it is tossed away, returned, replaced, repaired, or tolerated. This may occur before or after the value of the product has been achieved.
Considering that we know that all products will fail, it is often our work to determine what, how and when the failure will occur. In part this is our nature, we are fascinated by the workings of products, we are equally fascinated by failures. At times it is like a mystery to solve, others times it is a chance to learn about a design or materials. We explore that boundary between a product’s ability to provide value and partial or total failure. It is the transition into failure that we examine, study, contemplate and explore.
The intent of a day to celebrate failure is a day to celebrate all that we learn from failure. Without product failures we wouldn’t have such a rewarding career option. Without product failures our products would last until replaced or upgraded. The drive for smaller, faster, cheaper and more features would drive product development, yet we would not be concerned with failures. The balance between what is possible to create and a long useful life would disappear. Quality would focus on the aesthetics (or similar important aspects of quality) and not process control.
Be sure to celebrate the International Day of Failure with you marketing group. They, in particular, do not understand the value of product failures. Marketing and datasheets barely mention, and often in only a vague manner, that the product has a finite useful life. Witness the incomplete reliability statements, charts with fat lines and little detail, and the sanitized reliability testing reports. In part marketing is responding to customer requests for information, and providing as little information as possible.
The real party will be in the failure analysis lab. There is group the revels in failure. They get up close and personal with every failure that crosses the threshold. They have the tools to uncover (in many cases) the story. Like law enforcement’s crime scene investigation units, the FA lab probes for clues and causes of the failure event. The finance group may be another area of support for a party around failures. They may understand the more the organization designs systems to avoid failure, the lower the warranty expenses (higher profits). While they may not enjoy the cost of testing and analyzing failures, they may understand the necessity of the investment.
In summary, I realize there may not be a parade to honor reliability engineers, yet we should stop to consider life without gadgets without product reliability and all that we’ve learned.