Reliability is often expressed as a probability. It measures the ability of a system to accomplish its design mission in the intended environment for a certain period of time.

The number of components, the individual reliability of each component, and the configuration are important aspects of reliability. Parts reduction and simplified design can increase both reliability and manufacturability. A simple design may also be easier to service. All these factors can reduce resource use and waste.

Designers cannot always achieve reliability by reducing parts or making designs simple. In some cases, they must add redundant systems to provide backup. When a reliable product system requires parallel systems or fail-safe components, the cost can rise significantly. Reliable designs must also meet all other project requirements.

Reliability should be designed into products rather than achieved through later inspection. Screening out potentially unreliable products after they are made is wasteful because such products must be repaired or discarded. Both environmental impact and cost increase.

For example, a large American electronics firm discovered that the plug-in boards on the digital scopes it designs failed in use. However, when the boards were returned for testing, 30% showed no defects and were sent back to customers. Some boards were returned repeatedly, only to pass tests every time. Finally, the company discovered that a bit of insulation on each of the problem boards' capacitors was missing, producing a short when they were installed in the scope. The cause was insufficient clearance between the board and the chassis of the scope; each time the board was installed it scraped against the side of the instrument. Finding the problem was difficult and expensive. Preventing it during design with a more thorough examination of fit and clearance would have been simpler and less costly.

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