The terms “elevator talk” or “elevator pitch” refer to a brief presentation or explanation delivered in the time it typically takes to ride an elevator from one floor to another, i.e., anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. Savvy people in all walks of life have them ready on key topics to efficiently and effectively get their points across to others. So how do we explain reliability engineering in an “elevator talk?”
To another engineer, my pitch would go something like this: “Reliability is the likelihood that process/product/people will carry out their stated functions for the specified time interval when operated according to the designated conditions. Maintainability is the ease and speed of maintenance to get the system back to its original operating conditions. Availability is being ready for use as intended. Since availability is a function of reliability and maintainability, reliability engineers work on improving both throughout the lifecycle of assets and products.”
If that discussion were to go well and time permitted, I would go on to explain that a comprehensive reliability process can be used to perform continuous improvement and enable any organization to attain top quartile performance.
A definition from Wikipedia.org is, “Reliability engineering emphasizes dependability in the lifecycle management of a product… Reliability engineering deals with estimation, prevention, and management of high levels of lifetime engineering-uncertainty and risks of failure.”
A generic definition might be, “Reliability engineering enables an asset to perform its intended function without failure for the specified time, when built, installed, and operated as designed.”
Visit businessdictionary.com and you will find, “Principles and practices associated with reliability requirements (such as prediction of failure time and conditions) and their translation into specifications that are incorporated in product design and production.”
All of these definitions, however, assume a level of knowledge of the referenced concepts on the part of the audience. Also, by using broad definitions, much is left to individual interpretation. Explaining our work to non-engineers can be tough.
At a recent social event, a lawyer asked me what I do. When I answered “reliability engineering,” he asked what that meant. After 10 minutes of explanations, it was clear he still wasn’t close to understanding the importance or relevance of the field, or what it is. Spending about five more minutes trying to clarify things for him, I came to realize that even with all I know about reliability, I still needed an elevator talk for non-engineers. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
“If your car starts every time you need it and gets you to your destination, it has high reliability. If your car can be quickly and properly maintained (preserved in a like-new state) when something does go wrong, it reflects good maintainability. Because of high reliability and good maintainability, your car is available whenever you need it. Reliability engineering uses calculations, tools, and techniques to evaluate the risks of human and asset failure and avoid related consequences. This applies to everything from a single component to an overall production process. These concepts are applied to the machinery, equipment, and facilities that produce products such as cars, chemicals, steel, food, energy, aircraft, spacecraft, and household goods. Because it can improve so many parts of any organization, reliability engineering is an ongoing process.”
Reliability is so all-inclusive in what it can positively affect, that our attempts to explain it often seem vague. Conversely, using only a single example makes it sound too simplistic.
If you have a good reliability-engineering elevator talk (for delivery to non-engineers), please send it to me. I would like to hear it. MT
Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a College of Engineering research professor. Contact him at email@example.com.