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Failure Modes and Effects Analysis

Failure Modes and Effects Analysis

Also called: potential failure modes and effects analysis; failure modes, effects and criticality analysis (FMECA).
Failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) is a step-by-step approach for identifying all possible failures in a design,
a manufacturing or assembly process, or a product or service.
Failure modes means the ways, or modes, in which something might fail. Failures are any errors or defects,
especially ones that affect the customer, and can be potential or actual.
Effects analysis refers to studying the consequences of those failures.
Failures are prioritized according to how serious their consequences are, how frequently they occur and how easily
they can be detected. The purpose of the FMEA is to take actions to eliminate or reduce failures, starting with the
highest-priority ones.
Failure modes and effects analysis also documents current knowledge and actions about the risks of failures, for use
in continuous improvement. FMEA is used during design to prevent failures. Later its used for control, before and
during ongoing operation of the process. Ideally, FMEA begins during the earliest conceptual stages of design and
continues throughout the life of the product or service.
Begun in the 1940s by the U.S. military, FMEA was further developed by the aerospace and automotive industries.
Several industries maintain formal FMEA standards.
What follows is an overview and reference. Before undertaking an FMEA process, learn more about standards and
specific methods in your organization and industry through other references and training.

When to Use FMEA

When a process, product or service is being designed or redesigned, after quality function deployment.

When an existing process, product or service is being applied in a new way.

Before developing control plans for a new or modified process.

When improvement goals are planned for an existing process, product or service.

When analyzing failures of an existing process, product or service.

Periodically throughout the life of the process, product or service

FMEA Procedure
(Again, this is a general procedure. Specific details may vary with standards of your organization or industry.)

Assemble a cross-functional team of people with diverse knowledge about the process, product or service
and customer needs. Functions often included are: design, manufacturing, quality, testing, reliability,
maintenance, purchasing (and suppliers), sales, marketing (and customers) and customer service.


Identify the scope of the FMEA. Is it for concept, system, design, process or service? What are the
boundaries? How detailed should we be? Use flowcharts to identify the scope and to make sure every
team member understands it in detail. (From here on, well use the word scope to mean the system,
design, process or service that is the subject of your FMEA.)

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Failure Modes and Effects Analysis


Fill in the identifying information at the top of your FMEA form. Figure 1 shows a typical format. The
remaining steps ask for information that will go into the columns of the form.

Figure 1 FMEA Example (click image to enlarge)


Identify the functions of your scope. Ask, What is the purpose of this system, design, process or service?
What do our customers expect it to do? Name it with a verb followed by a noun. Usually you will break the
scope into separate subsystems, items, parts, assemblies or process steps and identify the function of


For each function, identify all the ways failure could happen. These are potential failure modes. If
necessary, go back and rewrite the function with more detail to be sure the failure modes show a loss of
that function.


For each failure mode, identify all the consequences on the system, related systems, process, related
processes, product, service, customer or regulations. These are potential effects of failure. Ask, What
does the customer experience because of this failure? What happens when this failure occurs?


Determine how serious each effect is. This is the severity rating, or S. Severity is usually rated on a scale
from 1 to 10, where 1 is insignificant and 10 is catastrophic. If a failure mode has more than one effect,
write on the FMEA table only the highest severity rating for that failure mode.


For each failure mode, determine all the potential root causes. Use tools classified as cause analysis tool,
as well as the best knowledge and experience of the team. List all possible causes for each failure mode
on the FMEA form.


For each cause, determine the occurrence rating, or O. This rating estimates the probability of failure
occurring for that reason during the lifetime of your scope. Occurrence is usually rated on a scale from 1 to
10, where 1 is extremely unlikely and 10 is inevitable. On the FMEA table, list the occurrence rating for
each cause.
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10. For each cause, identify current process controls. These are tests, procedures or mechanisms that you
now have in place to keep failures from reaching the customer. These controls might prevent the cause
from happening, reduce the likelihood that it will happen or detect failure after the cause has already
happened but before the customer is affected.
11. For each control, determine the detection rating, or D. This rating estimates how well the controls can
detect either the cause or its failure mode after they have happened but before the customer is affected.
Detection is usually rated on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means the control is absolutely certain to detect
the problem and 10 means the control is certain not to detect the problem (or no control exists). On the
FMEA table, list the detection rating for each cause.
12. (Optional for most industries) Is this failure mode associated with a critical characteristic? (Critical
characteristics are measurements or indicators that reflect safety or compliance with government
regulations and need special controls.) If so, a column labeled Classification receives a Y or N to show
whether special controls are needed. Usually, critical characteristics have a severity of 9 or 10 and
occurrence and detection ratings above 3.
13. Calculate the risk priority number, or RPN, which equals S O D. Also calculate Criticality by multiplying
severity by occurrence, S O. These numbers provide guidance for ranking potential failures in the order
they should be addressed.
14. Identify recommended actions. These actions may be design or process changes to lower severity or
occurrence. They may be additional controls to improve detection. Also note who is responsible for the
actions and target completion dates.
15. As actions are completed, note results and the date on the FMEA form. Also, note new S, O or D ratings
and new RPNs.

FMEA Example
A bank performed a process FMEA on their ATM system. Figure 1 shows part of itthe function dispense cash and
a few of the failure modes for that function. The optional Classification column was not used. Only the headings are
shown for the rightmost (action) columns.
Notice that RPN and criticality prioritize causes differently. According to the RPN, machine jams and heavy
computer network traffic are the first and second highest risks.
One high value for severity or occurrence times a detection rating of 10 generates a high RPN. Criticality does not
include the detection rating, so it rates highest the only cause with medium to high values for both severity and
occurrence: out of cash. The team should use their experience and judgment to determine appropriate priorities for
Excerpted from Nancy R. Tagues The Quality Toolbox, Second Edition, ASQ Quality Press, 2004, pages 236240

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Failure Modes and Effects Analysis

Quick Guide to Failure Mode and Effects Analysis

George Forrest 21
Problems and defects are expensive. Customers understandably place high expectations on manufacturers and service providers
to deliver quality and reliability.
Often, faults in products and services are detected through extensive testing and predictive modeling in the later stages of
development. However, finding a problem at this point in the cycle can add significant cost and delays to schedules. The
challenge is to design in quality and reliability at the beginning of the process and ensure that defects never arise in the first place.
One way that Lean Six Sigma practitioners can achieve this is to use failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), a tool for
identifying potential problems and their impact.

FMEA: The Basics

FMEA is a qualitative and systematic tool, usually created within a spreadsheet, to help practitioners anticipate what might go
wrong with a product or process. In addition to identifying how a product or process might fail and the effects of that failure,
FMEA also helps find the possible causes of failures and the likelihood of failures being detected before occurrence.
Used across many industries, FMEA is one of the best ways of analyzing potential reliability problems early in the development
cycle, making it easier for manufacturers to take quick action and mitigate failure. The ability to anticipate issues early allows
practitioners to design out failures and design in reliable, safe and customer-pleasing features.

Finding Failure Modes

One of the first steps to take when completing an FMEA is to determine the participants. The right people with the right
experience, such as process owners and designers, should be involved in order to catch potential failure modes. Practitioners also
should consider inviting customers and suppliers to gather alternative viewpoints.
Once the participants are together, the brainstorming can begin. When completing an FMEA, its important to remember
Murphys Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Participants need to identify all the components, systems,
processes and functions that could potentially fail to meet the required level of quality or reliability. The team should not only be
able to describe the effects of the failure, but also the possible causes.
The sample shown in Figure 1 can be used as an example when learning how the FMEA works. The team in this case is analyzing
the tire component of a car.
Figure 1: FMEA for Car Tire

on or Failur Potential
Proces e Type Impact
s Step




n, step
or item

severe is
effect to

the key
input to

What are


What is the
impact on
the key
variables or

ly is this
likely to

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is it to



Failure Modes and Effects Analysis


of car,


g or
detect it
should it

Stops car
driver and

driving, 3
pulls to
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Responsib Target



What were
What are the
the actions
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Who is
What is the
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y carried in

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Failure Modes and Effects Analysis


Criteria for Analysis

An FMEA uses three criteria to assess a problem: 1) the severity of the effect on the customer, 2) how frequently the problem is
likely to occur and 3) how easily the problem can be detected. Participants must set and agree on a ranking between 1 and 10 (1 =
low, 10 = high) for the severity, occurrence and detection level for each of the failure modes. Although FMEA is a qualitative
process, it is important to use data (if available) to qualify the decisions the team makes regarding these ratings. A further
explanation of the ratings is shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Severity, Occurrence and Detection Ratings

Number Number


Severity ranking encompasses what

is important to the industry,
company or customers (e.g., safety Low
standards, environment, legal,
production continuity, scrap, loss of
business, damaged reputation)


Rank the probability of a failure

occuring during the expected
lifetime of the product or service

Not likely
to occur

Rank the probability of the problem

being detected and acted upon
before it has happened

Not likely
likely to
to be

After ranking the severity, occurrence and detection levels for each failure mode, the team will be able to calculate a risk priority
number (RPN). The formula for the RPN is:
RPN = severity x occurrence x detection
In the FMEA in Figure 1, for example, a flat tire severely affects the customer driving the car (rating of 10), but has a low level of
occurrence (2) and can be detected fairly easily (3). Therefore, the RPN for this failure mode is 10 x 2 x 3 = 60.

Setting Priorities
Once all the failure modes have been assessed, the team should adjust the FMEA to list failures in descending RPN order. This
highlights the areas where corrective actions can be focused. If resources are limited, practitioners must set priorities on the
biggest problems first.
There is no definitive RPN threshold to decide which areas should receive the most attention; this depends on many factors,
including industry standards, legal or safety requirements, and quality control. However, a starting point for prioritization is to
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Failure Modes and Effects Analysis

apply the Pareto rule: typically, 80 percent of issues are caused by 20 percent of the potential problems. As a rule of thumb, teams
can focus their attention initially on the failures with the top 20 percent of the highest RPN scores.

Making Corrective Actions

When the priorities have been agreed upon, one of the teams last steps is to generate appropriate corrective actions for reducing
the occurrence of failure modes, or at least for improving their detection. The FMEA leader should assign responsibility for these
actions and set target completion dates.
Once corrective actions have been completed, the team should meet again to reassess and rescore the severity, probability of
occurrence and likelihood of detection for the top failure modes. This will enable them to determine the effectiveness of the
corrective actions taken. These assessments may be helpful in case the team decides that it needs to enact new corrective actions.
The FMEA is a valuable tool that can be used to realize a number of benefits, including improved reliability of products and
services, prevention of costly late design changes, and increased customer satisfaction

Minimizing Risks: How to Apply FMEA in Services

Tim Williams 2
It will probably come as little surprise that something called failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) evolved at the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration, an environment where the interest in preventing failures is extremely high. FMEA was
later popularized by the automobile industry and in recent years has become more widespread among Six Sigma practitioners. It
is now seen routinely even in transactional functions.

What Is FMEA?
FMEA is a system for analyzing the design of a product or service system to identify potential failures, then taking steps to
counteract or at least minimize the risks from those failures.
The FMEA process begins by identifying failure modes, the ways in which a product, service or process could fail. A project
team examines every element of a service, starting from the inputs and working through to the output delivered to the customer.
At each step, the team asks what could go wrong here?
Here are a few simple examples of failure modes related to the process of providing hot coffee at a truck stop:

One of the inputs to that process is a clean coffee pot. What could go
wrong? Perhaps the water in the dishwasher is not hot enough, so the coffee
pot is not really clean.

The first step in the process is to fill the brewing machine with water. What
could go wrong? Perhaps the water is not the right temperature or the staff
puts in too much or too little.

An output from the process is a hot cup of coffee delivered to the customer.
What could go wrong? The coffee could get too cool before it is delivered.

Of course, all failures are not the same. Being served a cup of coffee that is just hot water is much worse than being served a cup
that is just a bit too cool. A key element of FMEA is analyzing three characteristics of failures:
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Failure Modes and Effects Analysis

1. How severe they are
2. How often they occur
3. How likely it is that they will be noticed when they occur
Typically, the project team scores each failure mode on a scale of 1 to 10 or 1 to 5 in each of these three areas, then calculates a
Risk Priority Number (RPN):
RPN = (severity) x (frequency of occurrence) x (likelihood of detection)
The idea is to focus improvement efforts on the failures that have the biggest impact on customers. The highest scoring failure
modes are those that happen a lot, that are bad when they happen, and/or that are unlikely to be detected. Difficult-to-detect errors
obviously are more likely to get through to customers.
The team then completes the FMEA analysis for the highest-scoring failure modes and for any that get the highest severity
scores, even if they do not score that high overall. Obviously, a business wants to make sure any possible disaster is prevented,
even if it is unlikely to occur. Completing the analysis means looking at the potential causes for the error mode, identifying
ways to detect the problem, developing recommended actions, and assigning responsibility for monitoring the process and taking
action when warranted.
In the truck stop scenario, for example, here is a complete set of FMEA data for just one failure mode:

Process step: Fill coffee pot with water

Potential failure mode: Wrong amount of water

Effect of the failure: Coffee too strong or too weak

Severity score: 8

Potential cause: Faded level marks on pot

Frequency score: 4

Current method of controlling the failure: Visual inspection

Likelihood of detecting: 4

RPN = 8 x 4 x 4 = 128

Recommended action: Replace coffeepot

Person responsible: Mel

FMEA Case Study

A project was done in a transaction processing department to reduce process cycle time and reduce defects. In the Analyze phase
of DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control), the team identified several root causes, including duplication of
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efforts, excessive hand-offs and significant non-value-added work activities (such as filling out forms for other departments). In
the Improve phase the team identified changes it could make that would remove non-value-added work to reduce hand-offs, and
it developed ideas for several job aides to reduce defects. Before the team launched the pilot of these solutions, the Black Belt
decided it would be worthwhile to have the team complete a FMEA on the redesigned procedures.
During the FMEA analysis, the team realized that one of the steps it wanted to remove from the process which it had defined as
non-value-added was actually an important input to the finance department downstream in the process. (The finance department
played a support role in making sure certain controls were in place to limit the risk the company faced from processing the
transactions.) Implementing the new process as designed by the team would have seriously disrupted the finance group and the
company could have been exposed to significant risk. By exposing this potential problem before launch, the team was able to
adjust its solution so that the information was still provided to the finance department, though in a more streamlined manner, and
still meet the original project goals.

Practical Uses for FMEA

The case study shows that FMEA is a good idea whenever changes to the workplace are planned. More generally, it can be used
at either end of a DMAIC or Design for Six Sigma project:

At the beginning of a project, FMEA can help a team better scope the
opportunity by defining the types of failures and narrowing the focus to a
specific type of problem.

In the Improve phase, FMEA can help uncover potential problems (especially
unintended consequences) with suggested solutions, thereby allowing timely

In the Control phase, FMEA helps identify what measures need to be in place
to make sure that failures will not happen in the future.

Project teams trying FMEA for the first time are advised to keep it simple. Think of it as structured brainstorming a technique
to get teams thinking about potential failures it has not thought of before. Bring together people from different work areas and
disciplines. FMEA works best in a team environment with cross-functional representation. Subject matter expertise is critical.

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Failure Mode and Effect Analysis ( FMEA ) and Failure

Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis ( FMECA )
Failure Mode and Effect Analysis ( FMEA ) and Failure Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis ( FMECA ) are methodologies
designed to identify potential failure modes for a product or process, to assess the risk associated with those failure modes, to
rank the issues in terms of importance and to identify and carry out corrective actions to address the most serious concerns.
Although the purpose, terminology and other details can vary according to type (e.g., Process FMEA - PFMEA, Design FMEA DFMEA, System FMEA, Product FMEA, FMECA, etc.), the basic methodology is similar for all. ReliaSoft's Xfmea software
facilitates data analysis and reporting for FMEAS, with configurable settings and predefined profiles for the major published

FMEA / FMECA Overview

In general, Failure Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis ( FMEA / FMECA ) requires the identification of the following basic




Effect(s) of Failure

Cause(s) of Failure

Current Control(s)

Recommended Action(s)

Most analyses of this type also include some method to assess the risk associated with the issues identified during the analysis
and to prioritize corrective actions. Two common methods include:

Risk Priority Numbers (RPNs)

Criticality Analysis (FMEA with Criticality Analysis = FMECA)

Published Standards and Guidelines

There are a number of published guidelines and standards for the requirements and recommended reporting format of failure
mode and effects analyses. Some of the main published standards for this type of analysis include SAE J1739, AIAG FMEA-4
and MIL-STD-1629A. In addition, many industries and companies have developed their own procedures to meet the specific
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Failure Modes and Effects Analysis

requirements of their products/processes. As an example, Figure 1 shows a sample Process FMEA (PFMEA) in the Automotive
Industry Action Group (AIAG) FMEA-4 format.

Figure 1

Basic Analysis Procedure for FMEA or FMECA

The basic steps for performing an Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) or Failure Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis
(FMECA) include:

Assemble the team

Establish the ground rules

Gather and review relevant information

Identify the item(s) or process(es) to be analyzed

Identify the function(s), failure(s), effect(s), cause(s) and control(s)

Evaluate the risk

Prioritize and assign corrective actions

Perform corrective actions and re-evaluate risk

Distribute, review and update the analysis as appropriate

Risk Evaluation Methods

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Failure Modes and Effects Analysis

A typical failure modes and

effects analysis incorporates some method to evaluate the risk associated with the potential problems identified through the
analysis. The two most common methods, Risk Priority Numbers and Criticality Analysis, are described next.

Risk Priority Numbers

To use the Risk Priority Number (RPN) method to assess risk, the analysis team must:

Rate the severity of each effect of failure.

Rate the likelihood of occurrence for each cause of failure.

Rate the likelihood of prior detection for each cause of failure (i.e. the likelihood of
detecting the problem before it reaches the end user or customer).

Calculate the RPN by obtaining the product of the three ratings:

RPN = Severity x Occurrence x Detection

The RPN can then be used to compare issues within the analysis and to prioritize problems for corrective action.

Criticality Analysis
The MIL-STD-1629A document describes two types of criticality analysis: qualitative and quantitative.
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To use qualitative criticality analysis to evaluate risk and prioritize corrective

actions, the analysis team must a) rate the severity of the potential effects of failure
and b) rate the likelihood of occurrence for each potential failure mode. It is then
possible to compare failure modes via a Criticality Matrix, which identifies severity on
the horizontal axis and occurrence on the vertical axis.

To use quantitative criticality analysis, the analysis team considers the

reliability/unreliability for each item at a given operating time and identifies the portion
of the items unreliability that can be attributed to each potential failure mode. For each
failure mode, they also rate the probability that it will result in system failure. The team
then uses these factors to calculate a quantitative criticality value for each potential
failure and for each item.

Note: The quantitative criticality analysis in ReliaSoft's software tools (Xfmea and RCM++) is patterned after the concepts in
MIL-STD-1629A but modified to use a more general approach that overcomes several inherent limitations and simplifications
present in MIL-STD-1629A (including the assumption of a constant failure rate). For specific details on this approach, see

Applications and Benefits for FMEA and FMECA

The Failure Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMEA / FMECA) procedure is a tool that has been adapted in many
different ways for many different purposes. It can contribute to improved designs for products and processes, resulting in higher
reliability, better quality, increased safety, enhanced customer satisfaction and reduced costs. The tool can also be used to
establish and optimize maintenance plans for repairable systems and/or contribute to control plans and other quality assurance
procedures. It provides a knowledge base of failure mode and corrective action information that can be used as a resource in
future troubleshooting efforts and as a training tool for new engineers. In addition, an FMEA or FMECA is often required to
comply with safety and quality requirements, such as ISO 9001, QS 9000, ISO/TS 16949, Six Sigma, FDA Good Manufacturing
Practices (GMPs), Process Safety Management Act (PSM), etc.
You can use something as simple as a paper form or an Excel spreadsheet to record your FMEA / FMECA analyses. However, if
you want to establish consistency among your organization's FMEAs, build a "knowledge base" of lessons learned from past
FMEAs, generate other types of reports for FMEA data (e.g. Top 10 Failure Modes by RPN, Actions by Due Date, etc.) and/or
track the progress and completion of recommended actions, you may want to use a software tool, such as ReliaSoft's Xfmea or
RCM++, to facilitate analysis, data management and reporting for your failure modes and effects analyses. More information on
applications and benefits...

The following resources provide additional information on FMEA / FMECA.
Web Resources

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SAE International: The Society for Automotive Engineers provides the ability to
purchase the J1739 and ARP5580 standards, as well as the AIR4845 document.

AIAG: The Automotive Industry Action Group provides the ability to purchase the
AIAG FMEA Fourth Edition (FMEA-4) guidelines.

IEC: The International Electrotechnical Commission provides the ability to purchase

the IEC 60812 standard.

Reliability-Related Military Handbooks and Standards on This page

provides access to US Department of Defense standards and handbooks in PDF format,
including the MIL-STD-1629A standard for Failure Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis
(FMECA) analysis.

Effective FMEAs - Reader's Website: This website is dedicated to the readers of the
Effective FMEAs book by Carl S. Carlson. It contains checklists, links and articles related
to performing FMEAs.

NASA STI Special Bibliography for FMEA: NASA's Scientific and Technical Information
(STI) program provides a "sampler bibliography" that contains abstracts for documents
related to Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) and Failure Modes, Effects and
Criticality Analysis (FMECA) in the NASA STI Database.

Printed Resources

Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), Potential Failure Mode and Effects
Analysis (FMEA Third Edition or Fourth Edition). July, 2001 or June, 2008.

Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), Advanced Product Quality Planning and
Control Plan (APQP First Edition or Second Edition). June, 1994 or July 2008.

Carlson, Carl S., Effective FMEAs: Achieving Safe, Reliable, and Economical Products
and Processes using Failure Mode and Effects Analysis. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken,
New Jersey, 2012.

Crowe, Dana and Alec Feinberg, Design for Reliability. Ch. 12 "Failure Modes and
Effects Analysis." CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, 2001.
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Dhillon, B.S., Design Reliability: Fundamentals and Applications, Ch. 6 "Failure Modes
and Effects Analysis." CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, 1999.

International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), Analysis Techniques for System

Reliability: Procedure for Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA). January 2006.

Kececioglu, Dimitri, Reliability Engineering Handbook Volume 2. Prentice-Hall Inc.,

Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1991, pp. 473-506.

McCollin, Chris, "Working Around Failure." Manufacturing Engineer, February 1999.

Pages 37-40.

McDermott, Robin E., Raymond J. Mikulak and Michael R. Beauregard, The Basics of
FMEA. Productivity Inc., United States, 2008.

Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Aerospace Recommended Practice ARP5580:

Recommended Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) Practices for Non-Automobile
Applications. June 2000.

Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Surface Vehicle Recommended Practice

J1739: (R) Potential Failure Mode and Effects Analysis in Design (Design FMEA),
Potential Failure Mode and Effects Analysis in Manufacturing and Assembly Processes
(Process FMEA), and Potential Failure Mode and Effects Analysis for Machinery
(Machinery FMEA). January 2009.

Stamatis, D.H., Failure Mode and Effect Analysis: FMEA from Theory to Execution.
American Society for Quality (ASQ), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1995.

US Department of Defense, MIL-STD-1629A: Procedures for Performing a Failure

Mode Effects and Criticality Analysis. November 1974, June 1977, November 1980.
(Cancelled in November, 1984).

Hyperlinks to third-party websites are provided by ReliaSoft Corporation as a convenience to the user. ReliaSoft does not control these sites and is not
responsible for the content, update or accuracy of these sites. ReliaSoft does not endorse or make any representations about the companies, products, or
materials accessible through these hyperlinks. If you opt to hyperlink to sites accessible through this site, you do so entirely at your own risk.
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Examining Risk Priority Numbers in FMEA

Software Used

[Editor's Note: This article has been updated since its original publication to reflect a more recent version of the software
The Risk Priority Number (RPN) methodology is a technique for analyzing the risk associated with potential problems identified
during a Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA). This article presents a brief overview of the basic RPN method and then
examines some additional and alternative ways to use RPN ratings to evaluate the risk associated with a product or process
design and to prioritize problems for corrective action. Note that this article discusses RPNs calculated at the level of the
potential causes of failure (Severity x Occurrence x Detection). However, there is a great deal of variation among FMEA
practitioners as to the specific analysis procedure and some analyses may include alternative calculation methods.
An FMEA can be performed to identify the potential failure modes for a product or process. The RPN method then requires the
analysis team to use past experience and engineering judgment to rate each potential problem according to three rating scales:

Severity, which rates the severity of the potential effect of the failure.

Occurrence, which rates the likelihood that the failure will occur.

Detection, which rates the likelihood that the problem will be detected before it
reaches the end-user/customer.

Rating scales usually range from 1 to 5 or from 1 to 10, with the higher number representing the higher seriousness or risk. For
example, on a ten point Occurrence scale, 10 indicates that the failure is very likely to occur and is worse than 1, which indicates
that the failure is very unlikely to occur. The specific rating descriptions and criteria are defined by the organization or the
analysis team to fit the products or processes that are being analyzed. As an example, Figure 1 shows a generic five point scale
for Severity [Stamatis, 445].

Figure 1: Generic five point Severity scale

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After the ratings have been assigned, the RPN for each issue is calculated by multiplying Severity x Occurrence x Detection.

The RPN value for each potential problem can then be used to compare the issues identified within the analysis. Typically, if the
RPN falls within a pre-determined range, corrective action may be recommended or required to reduce the risk (i.e., to reduce the
likelihood of occurrence, increase the likelihood of prior detection or, if possible, reduce the severity of the failure effect). When
using this risk assessment technique, it is important to remember that RPN ratings are relative to a particular analysis (performed
with a common set of rating scales and an analysis team that strives to make consistent rating assignments for all issues identified
within the analysis). Therefore, an RPN in one analysis is comparable to other RPNs in the same analysis but it may not be
comparable to RPNs in another analysis.
The rest of this article discusses related techniques that can be used in addition to or instead of the basic RPN method described
In some cases, it may be appropriate to revise the initial risk assessment based on the assumption (or the fact) that the
recommended actions have been completed. This provides an indication of the effectiveness of corrective actions and can also be
used to evaluate the value to the organization of performing the FMEA. To calculate revised RPNs, the analysis team assigns a
second set of Severity, Occurrence and Detection ratings for each issue (using the same rating scales) and multiplies the revised
ratings to calculate the revised RPNs. If both initial and revised RPNs have been assigned, the percent reduction in RPN can also
be calculated as follows:

For example, if the initial ratings for a potential problem are S = 7, O = 8 and D = 5 and the revised ratings are S = 7, O = 6 and
D = 4, then the percent reduction in RPN from initial to revised is (280-168)/280, or 40%. This indicates that the organization
was able to reduce the risk associated with the issue by 40% through the performance of the FMEA and the implementation of
corrective actions.

Because the RPN is the product of three ratings, different circumstances can produce similar or identical RPNs. For example, an
RPN of 100 can occur when S = 10, O = 2 and D = 5; when S = 1, O = 10 and D = 10; when S = 4, O = 5 and D = 5, etc. In
addition, it may not be appropriate to give equal weight to the three ratings that comprise the RPN. For example, an organization
may consider issues with high severity and/or high occurrence ratings to represent a higher risk than issues with high detection
ratings. Therefore, basing decisions solely on the RPN (considered in isolation) may result in inefficiency and/or increased risk.
The Occurrence/Severity matrix provides an additional or alternative way to use the rating scales to prioritize potential problems.
This matrix displays the Occurrence scale vertically and the Severity scale horizontally. The points represent potential causes of
failure and they are marked at the location where the Severity and Occurrence ratings intersect. The analysis team can then
establish boundaries on the matrix to identify high, medium and low priorities. Figure 2 displays a matrix chart generated with
ReliaSoft's Xfmea software. In this example, the Occurrence and Detection ratings were set based on a ten point scale, the high
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priority issues are identified with a red triangle (up), the medium priority issues are identified with a yellow circle and the low
priority issues are identified with a green triangle (down). Within the software, when the user clicks a point in the matrix, the
description of the potential problem is displayed. For presentation in other documents, a text legend can be used to accompany
the matrix graphic.

Figure 2: Occurrence/Severity Matrix generated with Xfmea's Plot Viewer

Ranking issues according to their individual Severity, Occurrence or Detection ratings is another way to analyze potential
problems. For example, the organization may determine that corrective action is required for any issue with an RPN that falls
within a specified range and also for any issue with a high severity rating. In this case, a potential problem may have an RPN of
40 (Severity = 10, Occurrence = 2 and Detection = 2). This may not be high enough to trigger corrective action based on RPN but
the analysis team may decide to initiate a corrective action anyway because of the very high severity of the potential effect of the
Figure 3 presents a graphical view of failure causes ranked by likelihood of occurrence in a pareto (bar) chart generated by
Xfmea. This chart provides the ability to click a bar to display the issue description and to generate a detailed legend for printready output. Xfmea also provides this information in a print-ready tabular format and generates similar charts and reports for
Severity and Detection ratings.

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Figure 3: Charts of causes ranked by Occurrence rating generated with Xfmea.

In addition to, or instead of, the other risk assessment tools described here, the organization may choose to develop risk ranking
tables to assist the decision-making process. These tables will typically identify whether corrective action is required based on
some combination of Severity, Occurrence, Detection and/or RPN values. As an example, the table in Figure 4 places Severity
horizontally and Occurrence vertically [McCollin, 39].

Figure 4: Sample risk ranking table

The letters and numbers inside the table indicate whether a corrective action is required for each case.
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N = No corrective action needed.

C = Corrective action needed.

# = Corrective action needed if the Detection rating is equal to or greater than the
given number.

For example, according to the risk ranking table in Figure 4, if Severity = 6 and Occurrence = 5, then corrective action is required
if Detection = 4 or higher. If Severity = 9 or 10, then corrective action is always required. If Occurrence = 1 and Severity = 8 or
lower, then corrective action is never required, and so on.
Other variations of this decision-making table are possible and the appropriate table will be determined by the organization or
analysis team based on the characteristics of the product or process being analyzed and other organizational factors, such as
budget, customer requirements, applicable legal regulations, etc.
As this article demonstrates, the Risk Priority Number (RPN) methodology can be used to assess the risk associated with
potential problems in a product or process design and to prioritize issues for corrective action. A particular analysis team may
choose to supplement or replace the basic RPN methodology with other related techniques, such as revised RPNs, the
Occurrence/Severity matrix, ranking lists and/or risk ranking tables. All of these techniques rely heavily on engineering judgment
and must be customized to fit the product or process that is being analyzed and the particular needs/priorities of the organization.
ReliaSoft's Xfmea software facilitates analysis, data management and reporting for all types of FMEA, with features to support
most of the RPN techniques described here. On the web at
The following references relate directly to the examples presented in this article. Numerous other resources are available on
FMEA techniques and styles.
Crowe, Dana and Alec Feinberg, Design for Reliability, Chapter 12 "Failure Modes and Effects Analysis." CRC Press, Boca
Raton, FL, 2001.
McCollin, Chris, "Working Around Failure." Manufacturing Engineer, February 1999. Pages 37-40.

Stamatis, D.H., Failure Mode and Effect Analysis: FMEA from Theory to Execution.
American Society for Quality (ASQ), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1995.

Reliability Edge Volume 4 Edge 1.

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