In a previous post, I discussed Doing More with Less. It is a big push right now among government agencies and government contractors, including DOD. Sequestration is, by law, cutting spending and giving the defense industry less and less each year, but senators, congressmen and the American people still want the same or better defense provided. What does this have to do with our discussions dealing with innovation and continual improvement? Everything! Whether by mandate, or by free will, if you are simply price cutting to capture market share (doing more with less), then one of two things is happening at your company;
- Either you are innovating new ways to provide ‘more’ with the ‘less’ you are given, or
- You are not innovating, but giving up profit margin to provide the same service or product at the same Cost of Goods Sold.
If its the latter, then your company is slowly or rapidly going broke. Only Innovation and Continual Innovation can keep your profit margin stable or improving.
Many companies have occasional brainstorming sessions to solve a big problem or to innovate to a better product or profit margin. However, few understand structured innovation or how to use its processes and tools to generate rapid innovative solutions and continual innovation.
Failure Mode Effects Analysis
Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) is a key activity for any company designing and producing products for the consumer market as well as industrial or military use. The resulting document, an FMEA, becomes a legal document, should the product’s safety, reliability or quality ever come into question. But FMEA’s primary purpose is to identify and prioritize the most critical potential failure modes so they can be designed out or mitigated during final development of the design and before the product hits the market or ends up in customer hands. Once a design team knows where the most critical failures may occur, they can now apply innovation principles to solve the most critical failure points, thus making a more innovative product which will not fail and will operate safely. This brings down overall cost of ownership and often times bring down manufacturing cost as well. Without manufacturing re-works and without later product recalls and warranty re-work and repair costs, the companies profits go up, rather than down, because they paid attention to quality, reliability and safety sooner rather than too late.
FMEA Decomposition Table (Excel)
I recently gave a two hour evening training presentation to the Detroit Chapter of INCOSE (International Consortium of Systems Engineers). Most engineers were from the automobile engineering industry or the U.S. defense industry. I presented to the group a new, simple Excel decomposition table which I developed for General Dynamics. The decomposition table is used to prepare for, structure and fill in the FMEA. This new Decomposition Table (Decomp Table) ensures capturing all critical potential failure modes into an FMEA in less than half the time. It saved General Dynamics $4,207,817 the first year of application. As I described the purpose of the Decomp Table and how to fill it in, it struck me that, now, sharing this new tool, I was empowering multiple companies to “do more with less”. I had used three of the structured innovation principals to create the Decomp Table and in 2013, the engineers I worked with, using the Decomp Table, were able to complete their FMEA activity in 18% – 25% the time it had taken in previous years. Thus, the innovation that produced the Decomp Table is now directly helping many engineers “do more with less” and at the same time improve the safety, reliability and quality of their products, improving their products, their profitability and thereby improving their company reputation.
How to Use the Decomp Table
Before you can solve any system problem or constraint, you must first understand the root cause of the problem. To get to the root cause you may need only ask the “5 Whys”, or use this new Decomp Table. If your system is more complex, then you may need Fault Tree Analysis (FTA), Fishbone Analysis, RCCA, or FMEA, or some such tool to understand and prioritize potential failure modes and root causes.
You can create your own Decomp Table, or as for our template (below). Simply open a Microsoft Excel worksheet and create the rows, as seen in this figure, at left. Double click to see the image bigger and think of the functions and components (or Hardware) in a semi-truck’s exhaust system, to understand the Decomp Table. You will be able to populate your own Decomp Table to describe your own system; design, software app, process (or any other “system”).
1. List the key or primary functions of the system into the top row. Systems have many functions, but most are control functions or input functions needed for anticipated or required stability of operation or interface with the larger or surrounding system. Do not list these. Just list the one, two or three main functions which describe the reason for the systems being. What do we want out of the system.
2. Create the left-hand column with the list of sub-systems necessary to make the system work. In this example these sub-systems are the Hardware components that make up the exhaust system. Do not list sub-components. Do not try to decompose the sub-systems into smaller parts. Doing so, in the Item column of an FMEA, is one reason most teams take so long to do an FMEA. These smaller components will come into play in the first “Cause” column of the FMEA.
3. Now, the second large advantage of the Decomp Table is you can, in a very organized and structured way, verify that you document all “Hardware Functions” which are needed to support the upper System Functions. It will be around these “Hardware Functions” that we will be able to identify all functional failure modes and not miss any failue modes to be placed into the FMEA. So work down and to the right. For example, the first function of the first piece of Hardware, above, is “the V-Band Clamps are to “Secure” sections of the exhaust pipe together. Just put an “X” in the box. The “15” will come later, if you are building your own. If you are working with the template then copy a single or double digit number from anywhere else in the table and paste it into this top left cell. The proper value will be automatically calculated my multiplying the numbers in blue, Severity times Likelihood. Therefore the product placed in the cross-sectional cell is the maximum criticality of this Hardware’s Function (rather than an “X in the Box”). Then go down that column and copy the formula into any other cells, if those pieces of hardware help perform this same (Securing) function, anywhere within the system. Then go across the V-Band Clamp row to see if it is needed to provide any other functions in support of any of the upper level System Functions. This is one reason FMEA and Design for Reliability activities should be done by a team. Usually facilitated by a reliability engineer, but the subject matter experts both component and system engineers or experts should be available to help identify the second row Hardware Functions (or sub-system functions) and tie them to both the sub-systems providing them and to the upper level System Functions. By checking down each column for any other Hardware performing the same function, to support the same upper System function. Then verify across to identify any other functions that Hardware may provide in support of other other System Functions, you can verify that all Hardware Functions are identified. It verifies that all potential failure modes will be identified.
4. In the Function column of the FMEA, place the upper System Function, because the Item Function is inherent in the Failure Mode description. If the Hardware Function is to Secure, then in the Failure Mode column of the FMEA, put the 3 or 4 possible failure modes; a. Too much Securing, b. Reduced Securing, c. No Securing, or d. Intermittent Securing. You can see, in this example that all four of these failure modes will have different effects and different severity to the System. They are the only four possible modes of failure, because if the any piece of Hardware is not in one of these four modes of failure, then the Hardware is performing correctly. This is why disciplining the FMEA to functional failure modes is simpler and more encompasing than listing hardware failure modes like “cracked” “sheered,” or “broken.” Now, in the Cause column of the FMEA you can list sub-components of the sub-system that would most likely cause this functional failure mode and you can place the “cracked,” or “sheered” into the “Mechanism of Failure” column of the FMEA, along with the type of energy or “noise factors” that would most likely cause this “mechanism of failure”. Your are now right down to the “root cause” of the functional failure mode. Then in the Effects Column(s) of the FMEA you can document the local effect (the failure mode’s effect on the Item and then the failure modes effect on the System Function). You can now document and Score the Severity of the End Effect.
How quickly and well structured the FMEA gets populated by the Facilitator, so that in the next session with the Team, they can discuss Severity, Design Controls (and design margin) to prevent the failure and Verification Tests that can be run to verify the design will operate without failing. On two of the large project we applied the Decomp Table, we determined that it really would be of no use to document all the failure modes for the less critical Hardware Functions in the Decomp Table. The goal is to identify the most critical failure modes and then mitigate them, or design them out, before releasing the System to test and production. If the Hardware Functions have a criticality of <10, why put them in the FMEA. You can not get highly critical or high RPN failure modes out of a low criticality Hardware Function. Even many failure modes from the higher criticality Hardware Functions of 10 or more will still have low RPN in the FMEA. This, again, is another advantage of using the Decomp Table. There has not been, before now, a way to identify nor prioritize maximum criticality of Hardware Functions, before even starting the FMEA. Now there is.
How to Get Your Own Decomp Table and FMEA Template
Several of the attendees at the INOSE meeting requested a copy of the ‘Decomp Table’, expressing how it would help them bound and simplify their FMEA preparation. One of the systems engineers commented, “I see how this brings accountability to the FMEA. We will no longer miss critical failure modes!” Several wished to introduce it at their company. To further refine the usefulness and breadth of application for the ‘Decomp Table’.
So, I am now making the Decomp Table and FMEA template available to you. Download this tool, use it in your company and refer your colleagues download their own copy from this site. Let me know how you apply the Decomp Table and how we can enhance it for you. We will incorporate your feedback and send you future updates of the template. Provide your name and email, below, to receive the Decomp Table, along with the INCOSE Power Point presentation and my preferred FMEA template (which just might save you from spending $10,000 on a software package).