Shortcuts in Failure Design

Shortcuts in Failure Design

When a major hardware component goes it can often fail in catastrophic and spectacular ways. If your serpentine belt in your engine breaks not only does it mean your crankshaft stops but then by extension your alternator will stop charging your batteries which could result in power loss pretty quickly. Then your water pump would stop and your engine would start overheating while  simultaneously your power steering pump would quit meaning you’d feel like you went from driving a modern car to some sort of fifty year old tractor.

Serpentine belts are treaded on the inside for this reason. Wear can be measured much like on your tires where the depth of the tread tells you how long you have left to go on it and you can also visually inspect for cracks. But in more complicated assemblies, a single point of failure isn’t always as obvious. The result can be catastrophic system failure and the beginning can be a tiny bearing that failed.

So what do you do when you find out one of your critical bearings is wearing way too early? Well from what I have seen one of the common easy ways out is just to increase the area of wear on your bearing. If you have a bearing wearing out sooner than the life of the component just make it a bigger bearing and it should last longer. But this seems like the quitter’s way at fixing a lifespan issue with hardware. Likely the final straw that caused the bearing to fracture was not normal wear and tear of your assembly. You have to look at the internal air flow, air pressure, and whether your lubrication is making it to your components. If you do this kind of examination you can end up with an assembly that functions better, is more efficient, and places less wear on other components that you may not even be seeing are wearing faster than they should.

But of course that’s the hard way and too often we take the easy way out with our “well just make it bigger” or “use a stronger grade of steel”. It’s hard to push the comprehensive and creative agenda when you’re low in rank but I think it’s important.

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