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What is failure?
white smoke on black background

What is failure? Failure is an unsatisfactory condition.

Failure is an unsatisfactory condition.

We spend a lot of time trying to understand Reliability - it sounds so nice. Everything operates like it should, the assets, the processes, systems, the people! The reality is that it is much more interesting to study failure. That is where the insight occurs.

Uptime® Elements™ Reliability Framework and Asset Management System™ is a powerful and flexible roadmap used by over six thousand of the world's best run companies for advancing reliability and asset management while developing an engaged and empowered, cross functional Reliability Leadership culture resulting in being a High Reliability Organization. The community also features a global network of over four thousand Certified Reliability Leader [CRL] Practitioners.


Uptime Elements Reliability Framework and Asset Management SystemUptime Elements Reliability Framework and Asset Management System


Uptime® Elements™ is built on a foundation of personal and team leadership and organized into 6 domains applied over the entire asset lifecycle:

· Reliability Engineering for Maintenance

· Asset Condition Management

· Work Execution Management

· Leadership for Reliability

· Asset Management

· Digitalization

Uptime Elements Digitalization Strategy FrameworkUptime Elements Digitalization Strategy Framework



In the Reliability Engineering for Maintenance domain, a toolbox approach based on forty years of benchmarking, study and observation, the element of Reliability Strategy Development centered on assuring asset function with a line of sight to value (Asset Management).

Reliability Strategy Development includes a basic concept around failure that should be understood by all reliability stakeholders:

There are two types of failures: functional failures, usually reported by operating crews and potential failures, usually reported by maintenance crews.

A functional failure is the inability of an item (or the equipment containing it) to meet a specified performance standard.

A potential failure is an identifiable physical condition which indicates that a functional failure is imminent

A failure is an identifiable deviation from the original condition, which is unsatisfactory to a particular user. The determination that a condition is unsatisfactory depends on the consequences of failure in given operating context.

The exact dividing line between satisfactory and unsatisfactory conditions will depend not only on functions of the item in question, but on the nature of equipment or system in which it was installed and the operating context in which that equipment is used and the organizational objectives of the business.

The ability to identify either a functional or a potential failure depend on three factors:

1) Clear definitions of the functions of an item as they relate to the equipment or operating context in which the item is to be used

2) A clear definition of the conditions that constitute a functional failure in each case

3) A clear definition of the conditions that indicate the imminence of this failure

In other words, we must not only define the failure; we must also specify the precise evidence by which it can be recognized.

One approach to Reliability Strategy development is a to acquire the capability to create a technically validated and economically feasible scheduled maintenance program through

1) acquiring the skills and experience directly (long, painful), or

2) by hiring an experienced facilitator (much quicker and probably worth every penny).

Two of the objectives of a Reliability Strategy development are to:

1) realize the inherent reliability capabilities of the assets for which they were designed and

2) do so at a minimum cost.

Note: You cannot improve the inherent reliability – you can only realize it at best. You can however, lower reliability with ineffective or poorly executed maintenance programs.

  • Inherent Reliability is the level of reliability inherent in the system as designed and manufactured .
  • Operational Reliability is the reliability actually observed during operation

Inherent reliability versus operational reliabilityInherent reliability versus operational reliability

• Failures can occur due to weaknesses in the design, flaws in the materials, defects from the manufacturing processes, maintenance errors, improper operation, changes in operating concept, etc.

• The level of inherent reliability is determined through analysis and test (the ”actual” system or prototypes). Although the design and development team may attempt to simulate the actual operating environment, it is difficult if not impossible to account for some aspects of operation.

• If the operating environment is substantively different from that defined during design, more failures or failure modes may occur than were addressed during design and manufacturing.

What are we missing in this discussion on failure? What concepts and ideas do you have so we can keep it simple in order to engage non-technical stakeholders, cross-functionally, at a useful level across the enterprise? Please feel free to contact me at LinkedIn.


1: Uptime Elements Body of Knowledge

2: Nolan and Heap Reliability-centered Maintenance, Nov 1978

3: Understanding the Elements of Operational Reliability A Key for Achieving High Reliability by Fayssal M. Safie, Ph. D.

Terrence O'Hanlon

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