When the question pops up how to formalize continuous improvement activities, the request for tools and methods is not far away. One of the most used but also most neglected tools, actually it is process, is the Failure Mode & Effect Analysis (FMEA). In general there are two types of FMEAs, the System or Product FMEA and the Process FMEA.
Product and Process FMEA are two of the standard tools widely used in many industries, especially in automotive industry where FMEAs are part of the deliverables for the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP).
However, FMEAs are seen often as “nice to have” by the project teams without providing much value add to the development of the product or development of the production process. Certainly conducting FMEAs means a lot of work for the team, but it’s worthwhile.
The reason for seeing FMEAs as “nice to have” is that typically two things are done wrong with FMEA:
- The selection of the right FMEA team.
- Not seeing FMEA as part of the continuous improvement process.
In particular, the second issue means that in many cases FMEAs are done as a one time shot without updating the FMEA on a regular base when progress is made in the development process or lifetime of the product. This also implies that FMEAs are living documents. When you see an FMEA documentation where the last update was done many months or even years ago, you know something went really wrong with you continuous improvement process.
Much better is to handle FMEA as an 8-step continuous improvement process, very similar to the PDCA cycle or 8D process or Toyota A3 Report.
Just follow the basic 8 steps shown in the picture above and update the FMEA database every time you have new findings in your development process or during lifetime of the product. And, of course, reuse all this collected knowledge for further development of new products and production processes.