19 Sep 2018

Why reliability is so important to the MOD

In recent years, many of the significant purchases in the Land domain from the Ministry of Defence have been made to support Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs). This has provided our frontline troops with state-of-the-art equipment and helped to achieve mission success over that time. Purchasing equipment under UOR provides a relaxation to the normal procurement rules in some circumstances, justified on the basis that the benefits of providing this enhanced or new capability exceed the risks associated with it not being fully validated.  

Now that the UK has resumed ‘normal’ operations, however, returning to the traditional validation process is required to ensure that the equipment works, is fit for purpose and is reliable over the extended duration expected from such equipment. 

 

Risk associated with not validating comprehensively 

When we purchase equipment as individuals, we expect that it will work as intended and provide the functions indicated on sales brochures and literature. Most of the time we don’t give this a second thought and remove the product from the packaging, configure it and operate it providing the function that we want. We expect the product to work without interruption for many years (and normally longer in the case of more expensive items).  

But how does a manufacturer ensure that these goals will be achieved – is it luck, experience or a systematic series of tests that simulate the ‘real world’ environment? We all know what should be the right answer, but it may be surprising to find out that many manufacturers choose luck and past experience as the basis of ensuring reliability. 

The risk with not performing a comprehensive validation programme for military equipment is that it may not work – this might be down to the type of packaging used not being suitable, the equipment not being functional due to thermal effects or electromagnetic interference, mechanical failure due to vibration, or any number of other environmental effects. Validation requires a manufacturer to think about the whole life of the product, assess the effects of different physical environments on the product and perform a series of tests to ensure that it is robust enough to survive in harsh conditions. 

In addition to the safety implications of frontline equipment not working when it’s required, there is significant reputational damage to the manufacturer when products do not work properly. This is often a more significant factor with mass-produced commercial products. However, even with small manufacturing quantities, users will naturally tend to choose alternative manufacturers of equipment if they have had a bad experience with a previous supplier. 

 

Benefits of reliability testing 

The MOD recognises the benefits of having reliable equipment and as a consequence maintains a series of DEFSTANs that gives users confidence that the product will be suitably robust in the intended environment. However, the manufacturer needs to ensure that any testing to these standards adequately defines the environment. Using and operating equipment in the lush fields and plains of Germany is completely different from using it in the dusty high-altitude environments of other deployment areas across the world.  

In addition to meeting contractual requirements, a product tested properly for a range of environments increases in operational capability, thereby reducing the number of variant products with similar functions needing to be procured. For manufacturers of such equipment, opportunities might then open up in other areas, increasing the potential for increased sales. 

Working with a company such as Element helps and supports these opportunities – our advice services (ESQ) guide manufacturers down a path of decisions which not only provide confidence that their equipment will be fit for purpose, but also open up alternative market areas that can be capitalised on – for example, assessing for an Air environment at the same time as Land or Sea. The additional costs incurred with increased testing will be much lower than considering these individually. and compared with the additional sales, will be almost insignificant. 

The experience that Element has, based on the range of test services and products tested, ensures that we provide advice that can be relied upon, providing the manufacturer with the certainty that it needs in a design/product realisation process to ensure that a product is not only safe and fit for use, but also reliable in its intended environment.  

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