'Reliability Disasters' talk by Professor Bill Meeker - report

On 8 April 2021, the RSS West Midlands local group had the privilege of hosting an online talk by Professor Bill Meeker of Iowa State University concerning 'Reliability Disasters'. Professor Meeker outlined his view that 'reliability' may be viewed as 'quality over a period of time', and that it is unanticipated failure that is a problem, not failure in itself.

Professor Meeker summarised five particular 'Reliability Disasters':

  1. ATT 'Bell Cells' where batteries expected to last 70 years began to fail after less than two years
  2. General Electrics refrigerator compressors where large numbers of compressors had to be recalled after two or three years at a cost of $450,000
  3. The 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, where the shuttle disintegrated due to being launched in colder conditions than it was tested in
  4. United Airlines flight 232; in 1969 a aeroplane had to be crash landed with the loss of 112 lives due to hydraulic failure in an engine
  5. Ford Explorer/Firestones tyres where 14.4 million tyres had to be recalled.

Responding to questions and comments, Professor Meeker stated that whilst each 'disaster' had its own set of circumstances, they were all the product of unanticipated failure, lack or improper use of statistics, and lack of balance between engineers and managers, the latter often seeing the former as overcautious.

The meeting was chaired by Kristian Romano, as technical difficulties prevented group chair Tim Davies – a former associate of Professor Meeker – from doing so. Kristian thanked Bill Meeker for a presentation that was regarded by all present as educational and entertaining.

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