When did FMEAs get so FISHY

Working with a maturing automotive Supplier, I realized that FMEAs have gotten fishy. Actually, some are truly suspicious and ugly. And others are looking a little odd… but in a very good way.

I know most reading this will be familiar with FMEA. For those who are not, FMEA is Failure Mode and Effect Analysis – a valuable proactive tool to improve quality – or really the output from any process or system.

FMEAs that look Fishy

The suspicious, ugly ones are only ‘deliverables’ – NOT the result of thinking, anticipating and controlling potential problems. With so much talk about Lean, eliminating waste, and moving toward preventing product failures and recalls, it’s so strange that some companies still think FMEA is only a required deliverable to their customer. This is an opportunity to educate.

It’s not as likely today, but for years companies (individuals?) created Design-FMEAs that were one or two-page documents, and Process-FMEAs that mirrored the Process Flow, showed a few Failure Modes, one cause per Failure Mode… Boom! Done!

Unfortunately, there is still too much focus on getting low Risk Priority Numbers (RPN) – intentionally to stay under the radar. While RPN is easy to calculate, people forget that the three input numbers should reflect reality:

  • How significant is the effect to the end-user? (Severity)
  • On a relative scale, how likely does that cause occur? (Occurrence)
  • Given a spectrum of detection methods and devices, how effective is the selected method for preventing escape? (Detection)

Fortunately, there is another school of thought that prevents problems and avoidable costs by taking a different approach to FMEA.

“Go Fish” – These FMEAs are a great catch!

While some FMEAs are fishy, I’ve amused myself seeing how fishing analogies actually help prepare better FMEA. Maybe you’ll be entertained too:

  • Know what you’re fishing for – if you want to identify and prevent potential problems, start with the Design or Process requirements. Then generate Failure Modes systematically by taking the opposite of each requirement. Best practice FMEAs emphasize this method by breaking out ‘Requirements’ into a separate column.
  • Don’t scare away the fish – everything has a cause and effect relationship. Throw a stone… scare the fish. If you want to prevent severe problems, you have to identify the potential causes and take action. Not making cause analysis a priority will eventually ruin you day.
  • Fishbones make good soup – When doing FMEAs, don’t forget about the other tools in your tackle box. To help teams thoroughly consider all potential causes… we have them utilize Fishbone (Cause-Effect) diagrams – or at least ‘fishbone-thinking’. This helps them ‘see’ if they’ve considered all prevalent categories of potential cause mechanisms and variation that ‘could’ lead to the Failure Mode under review.
  • Use an appropriate fishing net — We certainly prefer to prevent causes but think about what happens after a Failure Mode or nonconformance occurs. Once the cause or failure mode appears, you likely have a few chances to detect and contain the issue before you ship it to your customer. Think of each chance or method as a fishing net. Are your nets too open (visual inspection) or are they watertight (poke-yoke)?
  • Good Fish’n is fun … and productive! — Like a good hour or three of fishing, FMEAs can be fun and productive. Don’t do FMEAs alone… bring along others who have more and less knowledge than you. Focus on the system: look, listen and enjoy a beverage while you’re at it. Don’t get so caught up in the rules and guidelines that you lose sight of the fact that you’re doing it to make your life easier down the road.

Here in Michigan Spring is here (with some day-to-day variation). As you prepare for a little time off this summer, make sure your FMEAs are working for you so you don’t get those emergency calls and texts while you’re on vacation… maybe even while you’re out fishing!

If you’re not sure your FMEAs are as good as they could be, give us a call. I’d be glad to point you to some practical resources or share some insights with your peers who are responsible for preventing problems.


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