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What is Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) and when should it be used?

Posted by Chris Adams

Article Rating // 39798 Views // 1 Additional Answers & Comments

Categories: Business Analysis, Systems Analysis


Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) is "an analytical approach for preventing defects by prioritizing potential problems and their resolution".  This is one of the best conscise definition of FMEA found in the "Road Map to Lean Six Sigma Continuous Improvement Engineering Strategies" white paper.

Here's a more expended definition of FMEA:

Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) describes a risk analysis method for identifying and documenting all of the possible ways that a system or process can fail, the likelihood of the failure occurring, and the effects that such a failure would have on customers or the business.  It is often used as part of Six Sigma and other methodologies.

FMEA process consists of three broad steps as follows:

1. Identifying the Failure Modes - all the ways the system can fail.

2. Performing Effects Analysis - for each failure mode, analyse the porential consequence of those failures.

3. Devising and Implemeting of Contingency Plans - develop appropriate mitigation measures for the highest risk priority tiems.

FMEA is an analytical approach to managing risk.  It identifies those risks which are the highest priority so that counter-measures can be designed and planned ahead of time thus effectively mitigating such risks.  This prioritization is done by calculating a Risk Priority Number (RPN)

While FMEA templates may vary slightly from one to another, most contain the same basic information:

Item Function Potential Failure Mode Potential Effects of Failure Potential Cause(s) Severity Raating (S) Occurence Rating (O) Detection Rating (D) Risk Priority Number (RPN = S*O*D) Current Controls Mitigation Strategy


Here is a description of how each column is used.

  1. Item / Function – A high level function of categorization for which a mode of failure may exist
  2. Potential Failure Mode – One possible way that the system or process can fail
  3. Potential Effects of Failure – The effects or impact of the system or process failure
  4. Potential Cause(s) – The cause of the potential failure
  5. Severity Rating (S) – How severe the effect or outcome of the failure will be
  6. Occurrence Rating (O) – How likely it is that the failure may occur
  7. Detection Rating (D) – If the failure occurs, how certain is it that the failure will be detected
  8. Risk Priority Number (RPN = S*O*D) – The product of the Severity, Occurrence, and Detection ratings
  9. Current Controls – Any exist preventative processes that are in place to lessen the chance of the failure occurring
  10. Mitigation Strategy – The action plan that will be taken if the failure occurs in order to reduce the impact that the failure has on the customer or business

The severity rating, occurrence rating, and detection rating are typically scored from 1 to 5 with 5 being the most severe rating level.  This results in higher RPN values reflecting a higher degree of priority and risk.  Therefore the highest priority item could have a potential RPN of (5 * 5 * 5) = 125.  Whereas, as score of (3*3*3) = 27 is only a moderate risk and, therefore, probably not worth planning expensive mitigation strategies.

FMEA is a proactive approach to identify and mitigate potential failure modes, while Failure Analysis Engineering (FAE) is a reactive approach to understand and address failures that have already occurred. Together, they form an integral part of the risk management and quality assurance processes in engineering.

Chris Adams
LinkedIn Profile



Will E posted on Monday, February 27, 2017 11:12 AM
Good answer. If you want to get a more in-depth understanding of FMEA and other methodologies like it, visit It's quite detailed, but in some cases you might need to have a more detailed answer. Knowing about the related quality processes like 8D and APQP would give you a well-rounded understanding.
Will E
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