What is FMEA?

A FMEA is a failure modes and effect analysis. “Modes” are the ways that a process or product may go wrong. This type of analysis is a useful tool for identifying problems that may occur, as well as the potential impact of these problems. In fact, it’s regarded as one of the best ways to anticipate harmful or negative factors, determine the exact causes of these factors, and determine how likely they will be detected before the product reaches the customer. Once a FMEA is conducted, it’s possible to establish how to take quick action to mitigate failures.

FMEA evaluates the severity, occurrence, and detection of risks. These factors make up a Risk Priority Number (RPN). The general rule of thumb is the higher the RPN number, the more critical the failure is, however there are some exceptions. Once FMEAs have been conducted and the RPNs for processes or products are calculated, the next step is to identify the failures that should be addressed immediately. Which ones have the highest priority to be eliminated or reduced? Failures are prioritized according to how easily they can be detected, how often they occur, and how serious the consequences are.

The challenge is to make sure that reliability and quality are present from the beginning of a process to the end—and that defects don’t occur in the first place. Ideally, a FMEA begins during the first stages of the design of a product or process, and continues until the end product eventually reaches the customer.

Why use FMEA?

FMEAs have a range of benefits, including:

  • Prevention of costly changes late in design/production phases
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Preservation of a business’s positive reputation
  • Ensured safety standards; both customers and employees are kept safe
  • Improved quality and reliability of products and services

FMEA can be used for a variety of Lean techniques. It’s very useful during Six Sigma, when carrying out a DMAIC project, and for continuous improvement. Although it is most commonly practiced in the automotive and aerospace industries, FMEA is helpful in a variety of settings, as it ensures that a process is completed all the way through with as little failure or defect as possible.


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