Efficiency in Product Failure Analysis

Product development teams often use a tool called Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) to think through the many ways their new design could fail.  For instance, let’s say that we are designing a new microwavable, dishwasher safe coffee mug that fits in a car’s cup holder.  I choose this example because I have yet to find one!

OK, so let’s say that this product actually exists.  You buy it and soon are disappointed with it. Why? Well, perhaps it does not keep the coffee hot for very long, or the handsome graphics on it soon wear off, or it tips over too easily in the car, the hot coffee makes it too hot to hold the mug in your hand, or it melts in the dishwasher, or…   Ok, I think you get the picture.  These are failure modes!

Unfortunately, when you ask engineers (like me) to come up with a list of ‘potential failure modes’ they will likely come back with answers like: the melting point is too low, or the Rockwell hardness is too high, or the coefficient of friction is unsatisfactory, or the molecular structure is too dense, the dimension is large, etc.  They then try to figure out ways to fix these technical failure modes and can lose sight of what is important to the customer.

Engineers may use an FMEA form (see below) to document and analyze these failure modes.  FMEA provides a structured way to capture product design concerns, prioritize them and define preventative actions.  Unfortunately, it is easy to get lost in all of the boxes!

FMEA Screenshot

Our company offers a unique spin on this age-old tool…

  • Customer-Focused – The process is based on challenging design teams to think about their product and it’s potential failure modes through the eyes of the customer.
  • Efficient – Customer-focused failure analysis is more efficient.  FMEAs are 50-75% shorter and they are easier to manage than a technically-focused failure analysis because they keep the analyzer out of the weeds and focused on what matters to the end user.
  • Addresses Design and Manufacture – Our format can be used to address design of a product or design of a manufacturing system. One tool for both!
  • Vetted – This method was created by nearly 50 product development specialists throughout the world. Development took almost a year.  100’s have been trained on this approach.
  • Robust Risk Prioritization – This approach leverages the risk prioritization method promoted by Donald J. Wheeler, an American author, statistician and expert in quality control. Donald’s method encourages FMEA process users to forego the use of RPN in lieu of an SOD value.  RPN can mask critical issues.
  • Hands-On Course –  Participants are asked to bring a current design project to class for analysis. Manager’s can feel confident that even though their employees are in class, they are making progress on their designs.


This method was developed and is trained under the leadership of Bobbie Gilman –  B.S. in Mechanical Engineering (1988).  Bobbie has designed and implemented 100’s of high volume components.  She is a strong proponent of Lean and has helped organizations incorporate the concept of Lean into product development. She herself led the efforts of nearly 50 product development professionals to standardize on a customer-focused FMEA method for a fortune 500 consumer goods company.  Her work, along with that of Donald J. Wheeler was published in the Automotive Industry Action Group’s (AIAG) FMEA Manual – 4th Edition.  Bobbie has three U.S. patents.  All are the result of asking “Isn’t there a simpler way?”

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