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The (smaller) carbon footprints of reliability engineering


Climate change is universally accepted. And when I say ‘universally’ I mean that the only people who think it is not a thing are fringe elements of society who are predisposed to specific interpretations of religion or commercial greed that would be harmed by any attack on fossil fuels and the energy we derive from them.

The good thing about this is that organizations who are serious about being successful and profitable can’t do so by sharing the ideology of a small minority. More and more people (including younger humans who will be the decision makers of tomorrow) are demanding more and more from the organizations they buy services and products from – especially when it comes to environmental concerns.

So to be successful, you need to take this stuff seriously.

So how does reliability engineering help out? It just so happens that you can’t have a small carbon footprint without taking reliability engineering seriously.

For example, virtually every product has electronic components in them. Everything from children’s toys through to kitchen utensils have capacitors, resistors, and lots of other things that need to be soldered to each other to work. Soldering components together involves heating up solder until it melts so that it can be applied to where it needs to be. And this takes thermal energy. And high electricity bills.

Enter bismuth-based solder. Traditional solder is lead-based. Apart from being toxic, it has a higher melting point than bismuth-based solder. So simply using bismuth-based solder means you need to spend less electricity to melt the solder. Everyone wins.

But … there was a reason we used lead-based solder in the first place. It is really strong and ductile (in the world of solders). Bismuth solder is not. It is not as strong, and more brittle.

Enter reliability engineers. There are all manners of things we can do support the reliability of bismuth-based products. Things ranging from Highly Accelerated Life Testing (HALT) through to computer aided modelling can help us design circuit boards which are just as reliable even with bismuth-based lead.

And so now we have reliable products, that are cheaper to manufacture, and also have a smaller carbon footprint.

If reliability engineering isn’t making you money, then you are doing it wrong. If you are serious about carbon footprints but not serious about reliability engineering, then you are doing that wrong too.

Reliability engineering allows you to focus on the vital few weak points of your product. This means you only need to focus on that small fraction of your product. Or in other words, we don’t risk over-engineering.

Over-engineering makes your product twice as big, four times as heavy, and otherwise more expensive to build and transport. Transportation creates carbon emissions. So again, reliability engineering is here to help.

Reliability engineers are a vital part of any effort to show that your organization takes environmental concerns and the pursuit of minimizing your carbon footprint seriously. This is not something that all reliability engineers think about … but they should, especially if they want to keep themselves relevant for years to come.

So if you are at a loss to work out how to minimize your organization’s carbon footprint, do yourself a favor and start taking reliability engineering seriously. This means you attract serious reliability engineers. And before long, you will be able to demonstrate significant contributions to the future of this very fragile and thin layer of biodiversity that sits on the outer edges of the mostly molten rock that we call Earth.

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