This was a follow up question in a recent discussion with Alaa concerning using a metric other than MTBF.
The term ‘Weibull’ in some ways has become a synonym for reliability. Weibull analysis = life data (or reliability) analysis. The Weibull distribution has the capability to describe a changing failure rate, which is lacking when using just MTBF. Yet, it is suitable to use ‘Weibull’ as a metric?
What To Use Instead of MTBF
Use reliability, the probability of successful operation over a defined duration. This typically includes a defined environment as well.
It is the definition of reliability, as we use it in reliability engineering.
Instead of saying we want a 50,000 hour MTBF for the new system, say instead, we want 98% to survive 2 years of use without failure.
Be specific and include as many couplets of probability and duration as is necessary and useful for your situation. For example, you may want to add 99.5% survive the first month of use. And, 95% survive 5 years of use.
Weibull is a Distribution, One of Many
Weibull, Lognormal, normal, exponential and many others are names of statistical distributions. They are formulas that describe the pattern formed by time to failure data (repair times, and many other groups or types of data).
Instead of Weibull Analysis you could easily also say we’re going to conduct a Normal analysis. In reliability work, I often first explore a set of life data by fitting a Weibull distribution to the data and plotting the probability density function (PDF) and cumulative density function (CDF). It’s a first look and not the end of the analysis.
Each distribution has four functions that are useful for reliability engineering work:
- Reliability function
- Cumulative density function
- Probability density function
- Hazard function
Since I tend to like being positive about a product, I often use the reliability function (calculated at specific points in time, t) instead of the CDF which is the probability of failure over time, t.
The reliability function is a function of time, hence my suggestion to always include a probability and duration when specifying or reporting reliability values.
Weibull is a Distribution, Not a Metric
The Weibull distribution, as other distributions, is a curve or equation. It is not a metric on its own.
Define the time intervals of interest, run out the calculations (I recommend using the reliability function for the appropriately fitted distribution) and then you have a metric.
Goals are not metrics, yet should be something we can measure and helps us make better decisions. For example, setting reliability goals for 1 month, the warranty period, and over the expected use life.
Then use vendor or testing data, and/or field data to estimate the distribution of the life data. Then again for specific time intervals of interest calculate reliability. Now you can compare your data to your goals and make informed decisions.
Just doing ‘Weibull’ is not a metric.
In many circumstances it is clear that when someone says they are going to do a Weibull Analysis, it is really a life data or reliability analysis not limited to only fitting a Weibull distribution. At least I hope so. The result of the analysis may be an estimate of reliability over a time period of interest.
How do you use the term ‘Weibull’ or how have you heard it misused? Add your thoughts or observations in the comments below.