In today’s consulting market helping customers that have serious system reliability issues but low budgets to solve the problems can be challenging. Customers that are cash strapped are looking for the maximum bang for the buck and cannot afford to hire high paid consultants and make too many system changes in design. If they do, they may try to keep the work as brief as possible to cut down the time on the job. This is understandable and managerially it seems like the only option. When faced with this situation, even top of the line consultants may error in proposing a work package that is technically complete and has all of the bells and whistles needed to answer all technical questions with the concomitant costs to the customer. The proposals may be technically good in one way but may fall short on capturing the problem of the customer’s budget for changes and fixes. The proposal may thus be rejected or the customer may continue to look for a less expensive approach or less expensive consultant. There may be alternative options that consultants may examine as a viable option. The following is an example of such a case where more thoughtful compromises may help the company and be a better business approach.

Situation
Company X has a reliability issue with their high tech commercial equipment. A reliability analysis has suggested that the overall reliability of the equipment will not meet the contractual requirements of reliability and quoted warranty due to a low MTBF. A preliminary test has confirmed this fear. The company cannot afford a complete redesign of the equipment and cannot ship out the equipment in this condition or they may face high cost warranty issues and potential law suits later if and when the equipment fails prematurely in its mission. The company calls in a consultant and requests help in making the equipment more reliable. The budget for the exercise is too low for a major rework plan that seems to be needed. The consultant sees the problem and works out a design redo plan but knows that the plan will be rejected at the outset due to cost and time.

Solution
The consultant has a few options that may help the customer without incurring a high cost to redo the design and pay high consulting fees. The solution requires complete understanding of the system operation, parts required, materials and reliability issues and alternatives for fixes.
1) A DFMECA analysis shows that there are specific parts in the system that are main contributors to the risk of failure. A correction and risk mitigation analysis also shows there may be some solutions to the potential issues. A review of the initial reliability analysis revealed that there were some errors in the assumptions made that indicated low reliability. All of the parts were assumed to act in series but were not all in series. When a more realistic analysis was made; the reliability was actually higher than originally estimated. A redo of the analysis showed a significant improvement but this was not the overall answer to the problem of low reliability. The expected overall MTBF was still too low.
2) There was no redundancy in a key part. If a redundant part was used, the operation could continue without interruption while the failed part was repaired and brought back on line, or with enough redundancy, the operation could continue to the term life without replacement.
3) Some key components were changed for higher reliability (at lower cost).
4) Instead of redesigning the entire system, a careful reliability analysis suggested that the system could meet the contract requirements if there could be one replacement of a key component (that has a short life) mid way in the term life. This would have to be negotiated with the customer, but a slight reduction in system price and other minor incentives were considered easily negotiable with the customer to allow the part replacement.
5) A review of the manufacturing plan revealed that some of the manufacturing operation was actually contributing to the lower reliability and a improved workmanship plan had to be installed.
6) Training the customer technicians to use the equipment at their own site under not only under usual running conditions but under adverse conditions would pay off in higher system availability and reliability than without the training. The cost of training called for operation training at the manufactures plant but not at the customer site and did not include “what if” training with videos and pictures. This cost was re-negotiated.
7) Some redesign of the system to simplify the operation was performed where possible without major redesign effort.
8) A quicker and more reliable way to estimate the reliability as the design progressed was adopted to help steer the design and eliminate inferior design choices.
9) The reliability issue was fixed at a reasonable cost and without a high consultant fee for time expended. It may help to have a reliability team that can address the mechanical, electrical and manufacturing issues where one consultant may not have all of the expertise to address all of the potential issues. Consider adding a consultants clause for a reduced fee but with bonuses where solving the problem on a timely basis and cost savings are worth some extra compensation.
These are just some possible ways a reliability consultant can help the customer and keep the customers cost down at the same time. Not all cases have this success scenario but it may help to keep in mind

– “There are always alternatives” as Mr. Spock would say.

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