Reliability engineering is a subfield of systems engineering that focuses on making devices carry out intended tasks without fail. Built-in failsafe mechanisms make the systems “reliable” given certain conditions over a specified period.
Reliability engineering involves predicting, preventing, and managing potential uncertainties and failures. As such, reliability engineers have to go through a stringent process of reliability testing for their creations.
Reliability engineering is often applied when a customer buys a product. There is an unwritten acceptance that the product will fail after some time. The manufacturer ensures the product’s reliability with a warranty. So if, for instance, the product bought continually fails before the warranty expires, the manufacturer needs to rethink its reliability engineering process to prevent future failures.
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To understand reliability engineering better, we must first define the terms that make up the concept—“reliability” and “engineering.”
What Is Reliability in Engineering?
Engineering is a branch of science and technology that is related to designing, building, and using engines, machines, and structures. In the field, reliability refers to systematically applying the best engineering practices and techniques to make products more reliable in a cost-effective manner. As such, reliability engineering spans across a product’s life cycle. Tests are applied from the time a product is designed. They are also performed while manufacturing and, over time, operating and maintaining the product.
What Are the Objectives of Reliability Engineering?
Reliability engineering aims to answer these two fundamental questions:
- What will fail?
- When will it fail?
To address these, reliability engineers must:
- Apply engineering knowledge and techniques to reduce the occurrence of failure
- Determine the cause of each failure and make necessary adjustments to correct the issue or completely address the root cause
- Identify different ways to address failures should the root cause prove uncorrectable
- Do reliability estimations for new designs and continually analyze reliability data
These objectives must be addressed accordingly to ensure that reliability testing methods are done cost-effectively.
Why Is Reliability Engineering Important?
Reliability engineering means reaping several benefits, which are discussed in greater detail below.
Increased Customer Satisfaction
When customers’ expectations regarding a product’s reliability are met, their satisfaction increases, which results in continued support for the commodity. That includes recommending the product to others. When that happens, revenue growth proceeds without any hitch.
Shortened Repair Times
When a product suffers from unanticipated failures, manufacturers may take a while before these are resolved. Through reliability engineering, errors can be predicted and minimized from the get-go. Moreover, manufacturers can benefit from reducing operational downtimes, allowing processes to proceed without any disruption.
Some devices need to undergo a burn-in process or exercise before being put into service. That is necessary to optimize system operations. With reliability engineering, the time required for burn-in operations can be minimized significantly, thus shortening the gap between lining up products for production and reducing inventory costs and energy requirements.
Better Use of Warranty Periods
Reliability engineering ensures that products function without fail within a specified time frame, thus reducing after-sales service provision and returns. Both of those scenarios can cost money in labor and materials.
Product failures can sometimes lead to injury or even loss of life. Aside from these, they can also lead to loss of property. Reliability engineering makes sure risks are identified and minimized efficiently.
What Are the Fundamentals of Reliability Assessment?
Reliability assessment is an important part of software engineering. It involves several processes, including:
- Software testing
- Test results collection
- Reliability model construction
- Model validation
- Model deployment
- Model field testing
These steps are done over and over until the product no longer fails or a new version is in the works. The diagram below shows what each process requires and how one flows to another.
Reliability assessment, along with other reliability engineering tasks, are performed by reliability engineers.
What Do Reliability Engineers Do?
Reliability engineers work with project engineers to ensure the reliability and maintainability of new and modified software installations. They should follow the life cycle asset management process throughout the assets’ entire life cycle.
Reliability engineers also participate in developing the design and installation specifications and commissioning plans. They contribute to coming up with criteria for evaluating equipment and technical suppliers and maintenance service providers. They also develop acceptance tests and inspection criteria.
Reliability engineers check new installations to ensure they adhere to functional specifications. They guide users to ensure the reliability and maintainability of equipment, processes, utilities, facilities, controls, and safety/security systems. That includes helping them come up with asset maintenance and risk management plans.
Finally, reliability engineers develop solutions to repetitive failures and all other problems that adversely affect the users’ operations. They work with production teams to analyze assets’ performance.
Overall, reliability engineering can minimize failures, enhance effectiveness, reduce repair times, streamline maintenance processes, and offer protection against injuries and death.