Thursday, 9 September 2010

Robustness in Engineering

In engineering, reliability problems come about for essentially only two reasons 1) mistakes, and 2) lack of robustness. Genichi Taguchi did much to bring to our attention the idea of robustness (making designs insensitive to variation, or “noises”), although others had been there too, notably RSS Fellow and Greenfield medallist Jim Morrison as far back as 1957. Taguchi had some important things to say about strategies for improving robustness, one being that engineers should first look to desensitize their designs to variation through experimenting with design parameters related to geometry, material properties and the like, and not to choose the more obvious path of trying to reduce or eliminate the noises. I will explain some of Taguchi’s ideas, and hope to demonstrate that he didn’t deserve some of the attacks on him by the statistical profession at the time, in stark contrast to the way our profession seems to have embraced the Six Sigma movement with nothing like the same scrutiny afforded to Taguchi’s work.

Tim Davis

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