Book Review: An Elementary Guide to Reliability

Cover of An Elementary Guide to ReliabilityBook Review: An Elementary Guide to Reliability

If you sort your Amazon search on ‘reliability engineering’ by price: low to high, you may find some interesting titles available for free or maybe a few pennies. Not one to resist a chance to fill another bookcase, it’s been a bit of spending spree.

One of the reasons, I am interested in older titles is to determine why MTBF is so prevalent today. So far, still looking and learning along the way.

There are many great books in our field. Sure, some are older. Some are not at all useful or helpful.

This book review is the first in what may become a monthly addition to the NoMTBF blog.

Today’s review is on the book, An Elementary Guide to Reliability (3rd) Third Edition, by G. W. A. Dummer and R. C. Winton.

Weighing in at 47 pages in a 6”x9” format, this one really is just an introduction to the topics covered. From the Introduction:

[This book] explains in simple, largely non-technical language what is meant by reliability and the various factors which make an equipment or machine reliable.

That it does or attempts to do.

The Definition of Reliability

I learned long ago to first check how the author defines ‘reliability’ in any book covering the topic. If the definition is different than my expectation, I’ll have to be careful when reading and using the book’s content.

In Chapter 2, the authors define  reliability thus:

Reliability — the characteristic of an item expressed by the probability that it will perform a required function under stated conditions for a stated period of time.

This works for me.

Unfortunately, the authors quickly introduce the “most important criterion … how often the item breakdown … defined in two ways.” MTBF and MTTF.

The rest of chapter 2 describes the bathtub concept and references the British Standards Institution. Yet, they do not recognize the inability of MTBF to describe two the three sections of the bathtub curve. They do acknowledge the ‘flat’ part is actually not flat, yet often close enough to be considered flat.

How Reliability is Calculated

Let’s move on to how the suggest we measure reliability. The title of Chapter 4, “How Reliability is Calculated” is ominous. I tend to think of measuring reliability, which may be niggly on my part.

My hopes are quickly dashed as the chapter opens with a brief description of parts count predictions using failure rates, converting to MTBF, as the first way to ‘calculate’ reliability for your product or system.

After a couple pages and an example of parts count prediction, the authors mention Physics of failure and devotes two paragraphs to the approach. They suggest is applies for high-reliability items that justify the considerable expense of creating time to failure models.

Then it’s back to the parts count topic by listing examples of component steady state failure rates.

Not sure why derating garnered a paragraph in the chapter, yet in a single paragraph on the subject they suggest component derating is a good practice.


The book is aimed at those dealing with repairable systems and does touch on many of the key aspects of reliability engineering.

A very brief introduction to statistics, operating and environmental conditions, then shorts treatment on installation, operation, maintenance, and reporting of failures. I do like the discussion in the last chapter on the cost of reliability, as I agree connecting reliability activities to the business, including expenses and profits, makes good sense.

The use of MTBF pretty much limits my recommendation to — do not buy.

It’s a quick and easy read. There are examples and practical discussions, yet the focus on using MTBF to exclusively describe reliability is flawed advice.

If you have seen this title, what do you think? What’s your opinion of this short treaty on reliability engineering?

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About Fred Schenkelberg

I am an experienced reliability engineering and management consultant with my firm FMS Reliability. My passion is working with teams to create cost-effective reliability programs that solve problems, create durable and reliable products, increase customer satisfaction, and reduce warranty costs.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: An Elementary Guide to Reliability

  1. Hi Fred,

    For this book they are on the 5th Edition now, and counting 100 pages. So is the review still fair?
    Probably it is, but it wouldn’t hurt to mention that this is not the latest revision of the book.

    And I agree it is tempting to buy these cheap used books on Amazon.

    I like you effort to review them and advice on the value of them, thanks.

    1. Hi Tim,

      Do you have any information on the 5th edition? I wonder if they have moved beyond using only MTBF to measure reliability?

      Almost doubling the pages, that would create room to include more on design for reliability topics, testing approaches, and data analysis. May just have to track down a current version and check it out.



  2. A quick check on Amazon finds the 5th edition and this short description which covers the updates:

    “This classic text has now been completely revised and updated, making it an ideal introductory course in reliability for a wide range of engineering qualifications, including City & Guilds 8030 and HNC/Ds. A new chapter focuses on the role of the microprocessor and microcomputer controller, and the use of algorithms for monitoring system performance. The addition of numerous problems, self-check questions, and exam-style questions makes this an extremely useful book for courses with an element of independent study.”

    The addition of a third author, expansion of topics, and questions are all good. The view inside via Amazon and Google Books, suggests the treatment of design for reliability and data analysis is still missing, as is the emphasis on MTBF.

    If anyone has a copy, please add you thoughts on the book and how well it delivers an elementary guide to reliability.



  3. Ordered the 5th edition (used version) let you know after it arrives.
    Expected delivery begin January.

    This goes actually against your advice ;-)

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