Do You Need a Customized Reliability Test Plan?

Every company or entrepreneur who’s developing and manufacturing a new product should be conscious of the importance of reliability testing and having a reliability test plan to make it happen.

There are cost and timing implications to testing, as with most elements of the new product introduction process, so a valid question is whether you need to dig deep for a customized reliability test plan instead of something that’s more ‘generic.’ Let’s explore this here…


Are you thinking about reliability testing during new product development?

Is your product safe to use? Can it be imported? Are you going to be jailed if found liable for customer injury? These questions and more should be top of mind when developing and manufacturing a new product.

Reliability and compliance testing help you assure that products reaching the market can be sold and will be safe, thus lowering your risks as the importer of losing your investment and/or getting sued.

One of the many tasks that need to take place during the NPI process is to devise and implement a reliability testing plan to determine if your product is not likely to fail early or in a catastrophic manner (putting users in danger).

Can you get a plan ‘off-the-shelf’ and go with that, or do you need to invest in something more customized?


What’s the difference between a more generic standard reliability test plan and a customized plan?

Standard plans

Some generic reliability testing plans aren’t bad at all. By definition, they might not be very well-targeted as they’re created to apply to ‘general’ use cases or even to different product types. But they will still detect some serious design issues. If you are on a budget and want to do enough testing to assure safety and reliability, this is a good option if available; especially if your product is on the simpler side.

However, be aware that for the majority of product types there actually isn’t a common standard, for example, issued by ASTM. If your product is really simple, the lab will be able to suggest some common tests. For example, for a basic Bluetooth speaker, the common failure modes (heat, humidity, vibrations…) are well known and are common to many other electronic products, and putting together a plan won’t take time.

In many cases, though, you’ll need experienced reliability engineers who take time to understand your new product’s expected usage types and conditions to create a relevant plan that can be called ‘customized…’

Customized plans

If you’re making a unique, complex, or more risky product (such as medical devices, very unique consumer electronics, etc) then it’s better to invest more to get a great product, including a more comprehensive reliability test plan that’s totally custom-developed based on your product, what users will do with it, the environment in which it will be used, and on market regulations.

For instance, an e-bike is not a simple product. Each e-bike coming on the market these days has a different design, it seems. It comes with a large battery and has safety-critical functions such as brakes. So, a “standard” plan will virtually never make sense. It has to be a combination of:

Some product-specific standards, such as ISO 4210 (Safety requirements for bicycles);
Some very targeted tests, sometimes to be specified from scratch in order to match the intended and foreseeable uses of the e-bike;
Taking into account some reliability data coming from the suppliers of some components (the battery might come from a large company that can provide its own test data, and in that case, there is less of a need to verify & validate that component).


How is a reliability test plan structured?

Contents: In most plans for testing product reliability there are two parts that need to be considered:

  • Environmental Reliability tests
  • Performance Reliability tests

Time: It may take an engineer approximately one week of working time to create a custom plan.

Cost: There are the costs of the engineer’s time to prepare the plan and the costs of conducting the actual tests. In case of failures, some extra engineering time may be requested in order to conduct a failure analysis.


Why can’t all products use a cookie-cutter plan?

For simple and quick testing a cookie-cutter plan will be more appropriate and relatively affordable.

However, once you get into a sophisticated product, it will require much more than a quick standard reliability test plan; this is where a highly customized plan is needed.

In that case, let’s look at the analogy of R&D testing. When a new type of product is developed, preparing and setting up the testing requirements (such as equipment needed, tests used, and procedure) takes much longer than the actual testing itself.

Similarly, reliability engineering would also take longer. Understanding the product use case and creating customized individual test cases can take quite a long time depending on the product.

The problem is that most reliability test labs don’t provide a customized reliability test plan. They say: “You want to do a carton drop test? No problem, we have the machine. Please pick an international standard such as ISTA 1A, or give us the procedure and we will follow it and conduct the testing to your specifications.”

For more complex or higher-risk products the engineer will need to spend a lot more time creating customized test cases — not one or two, possibly many test cases. That’s where a lot of the time and cost is spent.


An example of how NOT to devise your own plan in-house

For high complexity and/or high-risk products, many companies hire veteran reliability team members for each project and pay them to create a test plan, and then all team members across every department meet to make sure that the reliability test plan will cover all anticipated issues… but more often than not, what really happens is that they end up putting over two hundred test cases into the testing plan and have a difficult time agreeing on what is and isn’t needed. Then, they spend about a month doing the tests as well as a lot of (arguably unnecessary) extra budget!

That’s not how a customized reliability test plan should work. The engineer should put a lot of effort and research into devising the most streamlined plan possible which covers enough test cases to cover your needs without ending up with a wildly bloated test plan.


Is it worth spending the money/time on a customized reliability test plan?

If you are buying a standard off-the-shelf product that can’t be used in a way that would result in user injury, if you don’t offer a warranty, and if you plan to sell only in small quantities, probably not.

However, in other cases, it makes sense if at least one of these conditions is true:

  • You offer a warranty, or you are selling in a distribution channel that allows for returns;
  • It is not impossible that users could use your products in a way that leads to endangering personal safety;
  • You are dealing with a highly regulated industry (e.g. toys, medical, automotive, aerospace, etc);
  • Your product is sufficiently new that it comes with new risks that can’t be very well covered by applying the same ‘recipes’ as those of other products.


What’s next..?

We have numerous helpful resources about reliability testing here. Take a look:

We also provide reliability and durability testing for products and packaging so if this is something you need help with for products you’re developing and manufacturing in Asia, see if our service is suitable and get a quotation.

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