Stop Doing FMEAs for Your Customers

Published on: November 16, 2020
By: Murray Sittsamer

My oldest bonus daughter (aka ‘step-daughter’), Ally, loves to sing the song, “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now.”  It’s a fun and expressive song and we love to see her smile as she belts it out.  The first line in the song is “Stop telling me what to do!”

The song would resonate more if I sang it, but you get the idea.  Just picture a young maturing girl standing up to her mom…  Stop!  Don’t!  No!  Please!!!  Enough with your demands already!

The song came to mind last week because so many Suppliers — and I’m going to estimate 90% of them — only undertake Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (formal FMEA or something similar) because their Customers require it.  With so many other things to do and limited staffing, very few companies – if it were not a customer requirement – would analyze and then take action to control the risks in their process.  I believe this is due to a misunderstanding of what FMEA can do to make everyone’s job easier.

FMEA is More Than a Four-Letter Acronym

I’ve been learning, practicing and coaching others in Failure Mode & Effects Analysis (FMEA) for over 25 years.  I first learned FMEA early in my consulting and training career when I was assigned to an FMEA project at a General Motors Powertrain plant in Flint, Michigan.  There plant Manufacturing Engineers ignited my passion for manufacturing quality best practices.  After a few weeks, I was facilitating production teams in FMEA and we had many success stories.

I took to FMEA from the start … enjoying the ability to zoom-in and learn the details of a manufacturing operation, and then zooming-out to see the big picture and identify the weakest links in a process which needed attention to reduce risk of quality errors.

When I started The Luminous Group in 1999, it was largely based on my passion to collaborate with companies to help them see FMEA as a tool which will help them improve safety and quality, which would then reduce costs of errors and product defects.  Luminous Group developed a distinctive way to demonstrate the value of effective FMEAs to leaders and reduce the learning curve for product launch teams.  Learn more here.

I said, I’ve been ‘learning’ FMEA for many years because there are subtleties behind the steps and concepts that you only learn through practice and challenges.  Like many crafts and trades (welding, plumbing, carpentry … even quality tools like FMEA, DOE and GD&T), experience is what separates rookies from masters.

A New and Improved FMEA Methodology

In November 2019, the new AIAG & VDA FMEA Handbook was released.  At first, I resisted acceptance because only a low percentage of companies, other than their ‘Quality’ department, have understood the current, known methodology.  In many organizations, FMEA is inappropriately delegated to the Quality department.  However, without the correct cross-functional inputs, the outputs of FMEA are not seen as valuable and then the downward spiral cycle continues.

Working with Rich Nave to develop our training for the new FMEA methodology, I’ve come to understand and embrace the new 7-step approach, the new ranking scales, Action Priority vs. Risk Priority Number (RPN), and the added concept of identifying Process Inputs before documenting Failure Causes.

When done well, FMEA helps engineers prioritize and focus on preventing product and/or process problems from occurring.  When you consider the cost of poor quality, overtime wages, sorting, etc., there is a strong ROI for doing FMEA early, doing it well, and maintaining FMEAs through on-going cross-functional reviews.

Here’s the point:  FMEA is not done for your customer.  Nor is it done because a standard requires it.  FMEA is done to prevent problems under your roof, avoid the cost of scrap, rework, warranty or worse. Overall, the point of FMEA is to make our jobs easier.

Stop!   Don’t!   No!   Please!

Stop doing FMEA only as a direct request by your customers.  They don’t know right from wrong in your product design or manufacturing process.  Learn what FMEA can do for you, then give it a try.

No, don’t say it’s too much effort and has no impact.  We’ve heard that for far too long.

Please, learn why and push your team to do it for the good of your product.  Then your performance will fly.