Volume 3, Issue 3

Reliability Edge Home

ReliaSoft Corporation: Ten Year Retrospective

Pantelis Vassiliou
President and CEO
ReliaSoft

In 2003, we at ReliaSoft will celebrate our 10th anniversary. With this milestone in mind, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you my thoughts as I take a look back at the origins of the company and the corporate philosophy on which we have based our past success and upon which we will build for the future.

On April 30th 1993, Weibull+ for Windows was first compiled. The motivation for Weibull+ was simple: to make life easier for the creator and other classmates (graduate students at the University of Arizona's Reliability Engineering program). In doing so, the package had to be easy to use and provide analyses and plots that looked good enough to be accepted as homework by the faculty in the program, which was not a trivial task. Weibull+ fit on a single floppy disk and included a 32-page "User's Guide" that covered its operation. Best of all, it was free!

It wasn't long after the initial release that subsequent versions of the application were created with product commercialization in mind, and ReliaSoft (a newly formed company) was born. Today, the sixth generation of this package, Weibull++ 6, has become the standard for life data analysis worldwide. Our Weibull++ package did not reach this status through some clever marketing campaign, but earned it by clearly being the best software of its type. Along the way, this original spirit of innovation led to our subsequent product and services offerings, all of them centered on the objective of being "best-in-class." New software applications had to encompass new and advanced analytical capabilities, not just merely rehash some old approximations, while still maintaining an artful simplicity of use.

Today, ReliaSoft is the premier provider of reliability software and services worldwide, providing total solutions that encompass most aspects of a complete reliability implementation. Our solutions and services are offered through three business units, namely "Standard Software," "Enterprise Systems" and "Education, Consulting and Services," as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: ReliaSoft products and services
Figure 1: ReliaSoft products and services

To accomplish this over the last ten years required us to set and follow an ambitious and effective corporate philosophy. Of course, the first aspect of that philosophy is a strong respect for our customers as well as an unwavering commitment to listen to and meet their needs. Individualized customer service and an eagerness to use the real-world practical experience of our customer base to improve the products and services that we offer has been an extremely important component of our success. In the sections that follow, I would like to discuss some of the other key elements of ReliaSoft's corporate philosophy.

  • Reliability is an integral part of the product development process and provides enormous benefits to organizations that correctly and thoroughly apply it.

  • ReliaSoft's reliability engineering products and services will always be "best-in-class" and focus on reliability analysis methodologies that are theoretically sound and make a positive contribution to the reliability program.

  • ReliaSoft software will be integrated without sacrificing usability and analytical power.

  • ReliaSoft will educate users on reliability fundamentals and theory as well as the appropriate use of the tools.

Reliability is an Integral Part of the Process
For a product manufacturer (or a process/service provider), reliability is as fundamental as other core business areas, such as the financial/accounting process. One cannot afford to run a company without the appropriate financial/accounting process in place and, by the same token, one cannot afford to run a company without a formal reliability process. One should also realize that the reliability process, much like financial/accounting process, is not a single task but rather a combination of tasks and subprocesses that, when properly performed, will yield enormous benefits to the organization. Based on that, the tools that ReliaSoft provides are designed to assist and enable the tasks in this process. However, one should realize that just as great accounting tools do not necessarily make a poorly run company better, great reliability tools will not make a bad product better. What makes a product better is the process itself, with the appropriate tools as the enabler of the process.

ReliaSoft Products and Services Are "Best-in-Class" 
For each product that ReliaSoft offers our objective is to be the "unquestionable best product in each category" or "best-in-class." In doing so, we work extensively with corporate partners and user groups to identify, solidify and validate both needs and methodologies. Additionally, and as a part of our corporate philosophy, we will not make sacrifices or simplifying assumptions for our software products, but rather tackle the task at hand, no matter how complex.

Along these lines, our ALTA software put the science back into accelerated testing by enabling engineers to easily analyze and visualize data from quantitative accelerated life tests. ALTA 6 PRO considerably expanded this breakthrough analysis capability by allowing engineers to analyze data from quantitative accelerated life tests with more complex models, and has the honor of being the only commercial software capable of analyzing data gathered from accelerated tests where the stress profile varies with time (e.g. step-stress, ramp-stress or any other quantifiable stress profile). Our newest generation of the BlockSim software, BlockSim 6, considerably enhances the tried and true reliability block diagram (RBD) methodology for system reliability analyses with algorithms pioneered by ReliaSoft as well as enhanced analytical engines for exact reliability computations for highly complex systems, including configurations with standby redundancy and dependencies (such as load sharing configurations). Such exact analysis for standby and dependent items became easy to implement by leveraging the same principles used in ALTA 6 PRO for analyzing data with time-dependent stress profiles. Coupled with this analytical power, BlockSim 6 goes even further to allow for the analysis of complex repairable systems via discrete event simulations with user-defined maintenance policies, as well as resource allocation and cost analysis (crews, spare part depots), plus throughput and bottleneck analysis.

Establishing analytical packages such as Weibull++, ALTA and BlockSim to be the best in their class is sometimes not as difficult as accomplishing the same for packages that do not contain analytical breakthroughs. We faced such a challenge in creating our Xfmea package for failure modes, effects and criticality analysis. FMEAs/FMECAs are by no means analytically challenging and for some it is an exercise that can be performed in Excel. Even before deciding to enter the FMEA market, considerable resources were expended to determine if we should enter an already crowded market of FMEA tools, and if we did, determine how to design a package that is unquestionably better than the best package currently available. Additionally, such a package should provide clear benefits over simpler traditional approaches. I believe that we have again met the mark with Xfmea by providing an extremely powerful package that facilitates data reuse, teamwork, data management and project/action management as parts of the FMEA process.

Now as I sit here and write this article, and while extremely proud of all of our products, I should also step back and look at some product offerings that perhaps missed the mark. One such package was our 1996 RG 1.0 package. While the product met all of its analytical specifications, we realize that reliability growth was much more than an analysis endeavor. Reliability growth, aside from the analysis aspect, is heavily dependent on management's adaptation of the "growth" philosophy coupled with management's willingness to implement it. We soon realized that a superior software package for this endeavor must incorporate additional items along with analytical capabilities. To meet this objective, we teamed up with the "father of reliability growth," Dr. Larry Crow, as well as companies and organizations that have consistently put these methodologies to practice (such as John Deere and the U.S. Naval Aviation Depots). Our RGA++ package, geared for release later this year, is designed to set a new benchmark for reliability growth software.

I should also briefly address why software products/modules that have been repeatedly requested from users have never made it into the ReliaSoft set of tools. While not wanting to get specific as to the particular requests, I would like to point out the major reasons, outside of business or time constraints, that ReliaSoft has not developed some tools. These reasons include:

  • ReliaSoft, and I as its President, must believe that the methodology is sound and also superior to other methods. It must also pass a simple litmus test: I and any of ReliaSoft’s scientists and engineers must be able to honestly defend the methodology and must be able to make a solid case as to why you should use it in your reliability program.

  • If a tool or methodology exists that is, in our opinion, superior to another methodology for the same type of analysis, then we believe that our job is to educate users to the better approach rather than creating additional tools to address each methodology.

  • The tools already exist and any tool that we might develop would not significantly improve upon the existing tools.

Intelligent Integration Without Sacrificing Usability or Analytical Power 
We have made the decision early on that, in order to achieve the high level of usability and analytical power required for our software, each tool had to be independently designed to best meet the task at hand. In doing so, we adhered to common interface standards and cross-functionality standards (where applicable). However, we did not let these aspects become a constraint on the design. While many of our competitors have chosen the "Swiss-army-knife" approach, we continue to believe that designing each product independently will result in higher quality knives and corkscrews than forcing a combination of the two into a single tool. We are not alone in that belief. Microsoft's individual office offerings, such as Word, Excel and Access, are far superior to their all-in-one counterpart Microsoft Works. Therefore, we are continuing to design our software as separate products, yet also seamlessly integrated when appropriate. As an example, our BlockSim 6 is a stand-alone product with its own unique interface and features but provides integration with our Weibull++ and/or ALTA functionality as needed and when appropriate.

ReliaSoft will also be introducing a common (and open) XML file format for reliability data and system definition that can be used across platforms and applications. Beginning with BlockSim 6 (and subsequent service releases of existing software), all ReliaSoft standard software will have the option of saving/opening files based on this XML standard. There are numerous benefits to this approach. First, a standard XML file format can be utilized by third-party applications to read/write files. Secondly, it provides the flexibility of allowing applications to read/write data into this file format based on a particular application's needs, while still maintaining a common and open file format. As an example, an XML file created with ReliaSoft's Xfmea software will contain all the data needed for performing a thorough FMEA analysis. Although much of the data contained in the file only applies to the FMEA analysis, when BlockSim opens this file, it will only look at data items that are applicable within its realm (or within its context) and vice-versa.

Educate Users on the Underlying Fundamentals and Theory as well as the Appropriate Use of the Tools 
Our commitment to advanced reliability education is another key aspect of ReliaSoft's philosophy that sets us apart. We utilize a variety of formats to communicate this expertise and attempt to educate users as to the underlying principles and theory, and also provide educational resources to the reliability community. Specifically, ReliaSoft disseminates this information through avenues that include:

  • Training courses such as our Master the Subject, Master the Tools seminar series, which combines thorough coverage of the required analytical background while enhancing the educational experience with advanced tools needed to perform such analyses.

  • Theoretical textbooks created and published by ReliaSoft to accompany the specific software products.

  • Our weibull.com website, a free resource to the reliability community. The weibull.com site includes thousands of pages devoted to reliability theory and applications, including complete eTextbooks, references, papers, articles, studies and free software tools.

  • Technical product support by knowledgeable personnel via phone, fax and e-mail and professional consulting services on an as-needed basis.

  • Publications such as Reliability Edge and HotWire.

Conclusion 
I strongly believe that the principles embodied in our corporate philosophy form the cornerstone of both our past and future growth and success. In looking to the future, we are committed to continued R&D, both from a theoretical and an IT standpoint, since this is really the backbone of what we do. We will strive to incorporate new and proven technologies into our development as we expand our product line to meet customer needs.

Finally, I would like to emphasize our belief that our customers are the most important element of our success, and that we will continue to make their needs our number one priority. I also want to express my sincere appreciation to all of our customers who share this commitment to realizing the benefits of an effective reliability program.  End Article

 

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