How not to fail: Understanding Failure Mode Avoidance

When it comes to designing and launching space vehicles, aeroplanes, and cars, product failure of any kind is not an option. Over the past 50 years, the automotive, aerospace, and manufacturing industries have developed front-end design processes that reduce failures and R&D costs whilst improving product quality.

Locus has developed expertise which leverages these Failure Mode Avoidance (FMA) techniques and applies them to product design, though the tools and techniques are not limited to the product design space.

This type of systematic thinking is applicable in any innovation space; process design, software design, attribute improvement…

Increase quality, save time, and reduce R&D costs; it’s a win-win-win situation

Throughout the product development process, there are on average five engineering changes per part. The average cost of an engineering change is estimated at $50k; (resource cost, manufacturing costs; tooling changes).

This generally happens because most designers dive straight into the physical design domain. Issues and failures only become apparent during a test and validation phase just prior to product launch. Then more changes occur just after launch to perfect and finalise the product. At its worst, you get into the realms of product recalls.

Our FMA tools avoid this by doing the thinking upfront; before money is spent on physical design and on prototyping. We scrutinise any design with a fine-tooth comb, drilling down into its functionality and assessing noise factors which could derail its functioning.

We then embed mitigation and controls into the initial design, reducing the number of prototype phases. By the time the product launches you can be sure that it is transparent to a whole host of noise factors.

A structured framework

Our FMA approach is underpinned by a functional requirements cascade. We ask, “What does your product/process need to do, and how does that cascade into the functionality of the sub-systems and components that make up the product?”

This means we apply and validate our tools at a total system level, at sub-system level, and also at the nuts and bolts (component) level. It works the same whether you are in the process design space, manufacturing, or production planning space.

Our toolkit

Our toolkit answers THE key question in design, which is:

“How can I make sure my product performs well under all conditions?”

The beauty of FMA is that the tools are modular; this means we can pick and choose which ones best apply to your specific need. We understand that not everyone has the time or budget and that resources are finite.

Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

FMEA is one of the major outputs of this process. It is an assessment of how a system, function, attribute, or process might potentially fail. And it proposes countermeasures to eliminate or reduce those failures.

We conduct this analysis prior to actual design work and then update with data from testing and validation once the first prototype is built. This way we can confirm that we’ve tested the product against these failure modes and it’s worked.

FMEA also documents current knowledge and actions about the risks of failures, for use in continuous improvement.

When applied properly, the outcome is a robust design, which goes a very long way towards getting your product specification right the first time (read: customer satisfaction).

The FMEA mindset

Before any process, product, or function is designed, we undertake a series of thoughts and rankings to create a risk priority to implement new controls that reduce or eliminate failure.

These might be:

  • How might a design fail to achieve its ideal function and what are the effects of that failure; rank the severity of failure for the customer.
  • What mechanisms could cause the failure; rank the likelihood of that happening.
  • Do I have any controls in place to detect and mitigate this failure; rank the likelihood of my controls detecting the failure.
In conclusion

Our Failure Mode Avoidance thinking produces products and process that come very close to the magical ‘right-first-time’ mark. It is proven and it works.

Each year, hundreds of satellites are successfully launched into space, thousands of flights take off and land safely, and cars cover mile after mile. This is because their functional robustness is underpinned by FMA. Locus puts your design under the same Failure Mode Avoidance lens to get the best result the first time.

Want to read more on creativity, design, product development and innovation? Go to our Six Lenses Blog.



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