An adaption of the Functional Safety standards IEC 61508 and IEC 26262 by the European Union brought a new life into slowly fading activity of reliability prediction. Both reliability prediction and reliability demonstration are now key parts of many product development programs, however despite phonetic similarity those two have little in common as well as the result they generate.
While reliability prediction is an analytical activity often based on mathematical combination of reliabilities of parts or components comprising the system; reliability demonstration is based on product testing and is statistically driven by the test sample size. Therefore the obtained results could drastically differ. For example, a predicted system failure rate of 30 FIT (30 failures per billion (109) hours) would corresponds to a 10 year reliability of 99.87% (assuming 12 hours per day operation). In order to demonstrate this kind of reliability with 50% confidence (50% confidence is considered low in most industries) one would need to successfully test 533 parts (based on binomial distribution) to the equivalent of 10 year field life. Needless to say that this kind of test sample is prohibitive in most industries. For example in the automotive electronics the test sample size of 23 is quite common, which roughly corresponds to 97% reliability with 50% confidence.
The natural question is: how do you reconcile the numbers obtained from reliability prediction with the numbers you can support as part of reliability demonstration?
The answer is: I don’t believe that you can.
You can make an argument that reliability demonstration produces the lower estimate values. Additionally the test is often addresses higher percentile severity users, thus the demonstrated reliability for the whole product population will likely be higher. However, in most of the cases the gap will remain too wide to close. This is something, which reliability engineers, design teams, and most importantly customers need to be aware of and be able to deal with as part of the product development reality.
What does the audience think? We’d love to hear your opinions on this.