Tag Archives: MTBF

Learn Reliability, Not Just MTBF

MTBF is a Starting Point, Only

MTBF is not meant to be used for anything other than teaching someone new to reliability how the various functions and tasks work.

Using MTBF in the real world is an oversimplification to the point of being less then useful. Possibly even harmful.

You see MTBF is books, articles, and papers, often with the caveat of the assumption to simplify the math to illustrate the process or concept. Hence, does not apply for actual use. Continue reading Learn Reliability, Not Just MTBF

The 3 Best Reasons to Use MTBF

14586620299_60a4c792ef_m_dThe 3 Best Reasons to Use MTBF

This may seem an odd article for the NoMTBF site. Stay with me for a moment longer.

Over the years of speaking out on the perils of MTBF, there has been some push back. A few defend using MTBF. Here are three of the most common (maybe not exactly the best, per se) reasons to use MTBF. Continue reading The 3 Best Reasons to Use MTBF

Illuminating MTBF’s Lack of Information

14586612669_cc57c310e0_m_dIlluminating MTBF’s Lack of Information

Here’s a simple illustration of how MTBF oversimplifies data concealing essential information.

By convention, we tend to use MTBF for repairable data. That is fine.

You may also be aware of my dislike for the use of MTBF, for many different reasons. If you find yourself suggesting your organization, customer, industry or whomever to stop using MTBF, you may want to use this simple example to illustrate the ‘value’ of MTBF. Continue reading Illuminating MTBF’s Lack of Information

MTBF Search Result Sadness

Equipment that didn't advertise with MTBFA Quick MTBF Search Reveals Distressing Results

I was preparing to write this article and wondered how many search hits would appear for MTBF? So, opened Google and did an MTBF search. It is a common if misunderstood, acronym.

Beyond the 5,200,000 Google search results, it was the first page results that got me thinking. Keep in mind that Google often serves up a combination of what it thinks you are seeking and which sites have been useful for others.

Let’s break down what you find when you do an MTBF search. Continue reading MTBF Search Result Sadness

How to Calculate MTBF

Considerations When You Calculate MTBF

You should calculate MTBF for machines tooIt is deceptively easy to calculate MTBF given a count of failure and an estimate of operating hours. Just tally up the total hours the various systems operate and divide by the number of failures. Easy.

This simple calculation is the unbiased estimator for the inverse of the parameter lambda for the exponential distribution, or directly to estimate theta (MTBF). We use theta to represent the 1 / lambda.

What could go wrong with such a simple calculation?

What is a failure?

Let’s start with what we count or do not count as a failure. This directly changes the resulting MTBF value. If we only count confirmed hardware failures, and do not count intermittent or unreproducible or software failures, are we under counting what the customer experiences as a failure?

Over what duration do we count the failures? Should we focus only on the first month of operation, the first year, the warranty or service contract period or the entire operating life of the system? How do you calculate MTBF?

Some organizations only count failures they expect to occur. The unexpected ones are ‘special’ causes and require further study before counting as failure officially.

Another organization only counted failures that completely shut down the system. A partial loss of functionality, a degradation of capability or the failure of a redundant element all did not count a system failure.

In my opinion if the customer calls it a failure, it’s a failure. If a failure, by any definition, costs your organization time and money to address, acknowledge, resolve or repair, it’s a failure.

What is operating time?

This one is tricky. If the system does include the appropriate sensors and tracking mechanisms (hour meter) and a way to gather that operating time of units both failed and still operating, then we have a pretty good way to track total operating hours. Some situations and systems make this easy.

Most do not.

Let’s say we ship 100 systems a month for 10 months. At the end of ten months the first shipments have accumulated 10 months of operating time. IF….

… They are all placed into service immediately

… They are all operated full time for the full 10 months

… They are have each failure reported including down time

In general, we do have to make a few assumptions to determine the operating time for shipped systems. We tend to be conservative and err on the side that would make the MTBF value a little smaller than if we had the full set of carefully tracked data. Or do we?

  • Some organization count from date/time of shipment ignoring shipping and installation time.
  • Some organization assume all systems are installed and operated 24/7.
  • Some organization assume no news is good news and the systems with no information are still operating.

And a few organization assume systems run indefinitely, even systems 20 years old, unless notified that it is decommissioned, assume it is still running full tilt. i.e. No retirement or replacement policy.

How about when you calculate MTBF?

By convention when there are no failures we assume in the next instant there will be one failure. This avoid dividing by zero which causes fits for calculators and spreadsheets and mathematicians.

Another issue is how often are the calculations made? Do we gather data hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, annually? Some use a rolling set of data, for example only units shipped in the last year count for both operating time and failures. This result will ignore or discount the longer term wear out failures as the bulk of the units are young.

Some organization do the calculations weekly in order to detect trends. If there are trends you probably should not be using MTBF…. If it’s changing, if there are early life or wear out failure mechanisms, you should not be using MTBF.

Even though you can calculate MTBF easily, the complexities of getting it right still do not provide a useful metric. Instead focus on getting better data including time to failure information so you can explore and report the data with other tools and methods. Treat the data appropriately and make better decisions

Sure, better data will improve the ability to calculate the MTBF value, if you’d like to be like some organizations, that is fine.

How have you seen MTBF calculated poorly? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

Related:

How to calculate MTTF

Perils of using MTBF

Why do we talk about reliability?

Why do we talk about reliability?

  • To make decisions
  • To estimate reliability
  • To understand risk

We talk about reliability because it matters. The ability to estimate reliability allows us to make design and development decisions. The ability to monitor reliability allows us to adjust the design, suppliers or expectations about a product. Continue reading Why do we talk about reliability?

Reliabilty Predictions

Who are you fooling with MTBF Predictions?

All models are wrong, some are useful. ~ George E. P. Box

If you know me, you know I do not like MTBF. Trying to predict MTBF, which I consider a worthless metric, is folly.

So, why the article on predicting MTBF?

Predicting MTBF or creating an estimate is often requested by your customer or organization. You are being specifically asked for MTBF for a new product.

You have to come up with something.

Continue reading Reliabilty Predictions

Grundfos MTBF Policy

A few months ago at a IEC Dependability standards meeting, I met Thomas Young Olesen of Grundfos and we talked a little about NoMTBF. He said their company has a polity to not use MTBF. YES! So I asked for permission to post some information about the policy.

One interesting part of their internal site was a MTBF Calculator. Continue reading Grundfos MTBF Policy

MTBF Logic

The reason so many use MTBF is because so many use MTBF. ‘Our data sheet has to include MTBF since all the other data sheets have MTBF’. Which seems to be primary reason MTBF is so common. It’s because it is so common.

Against this logic is the desire I have to use a measure of reliability that actually is understood. Using reliability (probability of success over a specified duration) as a measure seems some how odd or novel. It is easy to understand and it doesn’t obscure the reliability. Continue reading MTBF Logic

Sample size and MTBF

Samples for Testing

Normally, we life test a sample of products in order to make sure the products will last as long as expected. We assume that the sample we select will represent the total population of products that we eventually ship. It is not a perfect system, and there is some risk involved. Continue reading Sample size and MTBF

No MTBF Tribe

Thanks to Kirk and the folks at TED for sharing another interesting presentation. Seth Godin: The Tribes we lead is a look at how we each can lead a movement to make real change in this world. Tribes and the organization of tribes has been around a long time, in recent years though those that controlled the mass media tried a different way to influence. Continue reading No MTBF Tribe

Marketing and MTBF

A few weeks ago I was working on a report summary that included a reliability value at 5 years for a product. The document was intended for use with customers, so it was reviewed by Marketing.

Not too many changes, which was nice as I do not consider myself a writer and certainly not a marketeer. They did ask for one change that prompts this note. They wanted the 96% reliable at 5 years to be replaced with the (roughly) 2,100,000 hour MTBF value instead. Continue reading Marketing and MTBF

The MTBF Battle Continues

This site is part a long string of attempts to eradicate the improper use of MTBF. This week two people have sent me references to work previously done and Chris sent me another podcast also highlighting issues with MTBF. Jim McLinn wrote about the possible transition away from constant failure rate Continue reading The MTBF Battle Continues

Wrong Conclusions

Here is a podcast by Chris Peterson of H and H Environmental Systems which includes her thoughts on the MTBF topic. She also explores how making even ‘obvious’ assumptions may lead to the wrong conclusions.

Chris records a podcast almost everyday and many are enjoyable, fun, and and provide something to think about as you go about your day. If you like the podcast above, check out her growing list of available podcasts.

Embedded podcast with permission of Chris.

For Maximum Test Value, Take it to the Limit!

When we go to an automobile race such as the Indianapolis 500, watching those cars circle the track can get fairly boring. What is secretly unspoken is that everyone observing the race is watching for a race car to find and sometimes exceed a limit, finding a discontinuity. The limit could be how fast he enters a curve before the acceleration forces exceed the tires coefficient of friction, or how close to the racetrack wall, he can be before he contacts it and spins out of control. Using the race analogy, Continue reading For Maximum Test Value, Take it to the Limit!