FMEA–The most important acronym that no one knows

“I do FMEAs.” Toss that acronym around at a party and see how quickly guests suddenly need fresh air, a jello shot or someone else to talk to.  For those few who might pick up the topic, what do they think it means?

“Oh, FEMA, the government dudes that botched Katrina.” Wrong.

Or perhaps a techie is in the house, slamming down Red Bulls in the corner. “FEA. Yea, that’s Finite Element Analysis. Used to do that in grad school.” Wrong again.

Even more rare, perhaps an engineer with production experience, jumps into the conversation, forsaking the mini weenies the buffet. The discussion might get as far as discussing the two types of FMEAs, PFMEA and DFMEA,  when she replies.  “Bingo-ski.  DFM–Design for Manufacturing. Hey I think I saw that on your Productization Blog. It’s so useful…” Unfortunately, wrong yet again. Three strikes. Ouch.

FMEA stands for Failure Mode and Effects Analysis. A DFMEA is a Design FMEA; a PFMEA is a Process FMEA.  FMEAs are an underutilized tool to predict potential failures before they happen. Before the yield crashes; before  field failures start coming in; before the dreaded letter from a product liability lawyer shows up.  It’s about getting ahead, being proactive, and fixing problems during the design or during the process set up, not afterwards.

In a way-too-simplified synopsis, a FMEA in practice is a two to five day lock-the-doors / ban-phones-and-email / bring-on-the-coffee-and-Red-Bull working meeting where, with the help of a trained facilitator (warning, shameless plug)–Zebulon Solutions offers this service–the brain trust crawls through the design / process a step at a time, component by component, subsystem by subsystem, process by process and asks “What could go wrong?” Once a potential failure mode is identified, then the failure mode is rate against three criteria: how likely is it to happen, what is the impact if it does happen, and how easy is it to detect.  A risk priority number (RPN) score is determined, action items assigned, and then the team moves on.  The score is particularly useful because it allows for prioritization of all those action items when the FMEA is done.

No one ever comes out of an FMEA other than dead tired.  But no one comes out of an FMEA and says “We didn’t find anything worthwhile.” Never happens–FMEAs always earn their keep, always find problems that need fixing that would have been far worse undetected. ALWAYS.

We have more information on FMEAs on our website, including a new FMEA fact sheet.



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