Exploring Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) through Robinson Crusoe

Since my childhood days, I’ve been fascinated by the story of Robinson Crusoe. It’s like a thrilling adventure that takes you to a world of exciting journeys, tough survival, and never giving up. The book, written by Daniel Defoe, isn’t just a fun read – it actually teaches us a lot about how to deal with risks and challenges. These lessons are cleverly woven into the ups and downs of the main character’s life, showing us how to face unexpected situations and come out on top.

Navigating the Seas of Survival Risks: A Look Back in Time

To understand what Robinson Crusoe can teach us about managing risks, let’s go back in time to when the book was written. It was way back in 1719, a time when people were exploring the seas, trying new things in business, and starting to think about how to handle risks. This was during the “Age of Enlightenment,” when people were becoming more aware of the need to understand, control, and deal with the dangers that come with new adventures and unknown territories.

Surviving Against All Odds: A Quick Summary of Robinson Crusoe’s Story

Robinson Crusoe, the main character, begins a sea journey with dreams of adventure and riches. But fate has other plans, and he ends up stranded on a deserted island after his ship gets wrecked. The heart of the story is all about Crusoe’s determination to survive, even when nature throws the toughest challenges his way. He has to find food, build shelter, and protect himself from dangers. All of these things he does to stay safe and eventually find a way to get rescued.

For the sake of this article, let’s imagine that the story happened in this decade, and that Robinson Crusoe was a Quality Professional before he ended up on the island. We will focus on his project of building a survival boat to move away from the island, and then see how Robinson would use FMEA techniques in building the survival boat.

Robinson Crusoe: The Quality Professional’s Survival Project

In our modern imagining of Robinson Crusoe’s tale, let’s consider him not just as a castaway, but as someone with a professional background in quality management. Armed with knowledge and skills, he treats his island ordeal as a project in itself, particularly the ambitious task of constructing a survival boat to escape the island’s confines.

Imagine Robinson assessing the risks and challenges involved in building this boat. He’s not only thinking about the physical construction but also the potential failures that could occur during his project. This is where the concept of Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) comes into play – a systematic approach to understanding and addressing potential failures.

Step 1: Defining Functions of the Survival Boat

Robinson Crusoe, leveraging his expertise as a Quality Professional, started his survival boat project by outlining its fundamental functions. These functions acted as the building blocks, guiding the boat’s design and purpose:

1. Buoyancy: Keeping the boat afloat and stable.

2. Structural Integrity: Creating a strong and resilient framework.

3. Propulsion: Developing reliable means of movement.

4. Steering: Establishing effective directional control.

5. Safety and Protection: Providing shelter and guarding against hazards.

6. Durability: Ensuring long-lasting strength against elements.

7. Resource Efficiency: Using available materials efficiently.

This function-focused approach formed the foundation for his boat-building efforts, setting the stage for a well-structured and purposeful project.

Step 2: Brainstorming Potential Failures

Progressing in his survival boat project, Robinson Crusoe engaged in brainstorming to anticipate failures linked to each function. This proactive approach aimed to bolster the boat’s overall resilience.

Robinson meticulously envisioned a spectrum of potential failures associated with each function, resulting in a comprehensive list of potential challenges:


Robinson’s meticulous organization facilitated a clear view of potential risks within each function. This structured framework guided his decision-making, empowering him to proactively address these risks while constructing the survival boat.

Step 3: Calculating Risk Priority Number (RPN) for Potential Failures

In Robinson Crusoe’s quest to construct a sturdy survival boat, his expertise as a Quality Professional guided him to the pivotal task of calculating the Risk Priority Number (RPN) for each potential failure. By systematically evaluating and quantifying risks, he could prioritize his actions and allocate resources more effectively.

Understanding the Parameters: Severity, Likelihood, and Detectability

Robinson meticulously assessed three critical parameters for each potential failure:

1. Severity (S): He assigned a numerical value ranging from 1 (low) to 5 (high) to reflect the potential impact of a failure. For instance, under “Structural Integrity,” he considered the possibility of “Structural collapse” and rated the severity as 4 (high).

2. Likelihood (L): Robinson used the same numerical scale to estimate the likelihood of a potential failure, with 1 representing low likelihood and 5 representing high likelihood. When analyzing “Buoyancy,” he gave “Sinking, instability” a likelihood rating of 2 (medium).

3. Detectability (D): Similar to severity and likelihood, Robinson assigned numerical values to detectability, indicating how easily a failure could be spotted before it escalates. For example, he assessed the detectability of “Lack of forward motion” under “Propulsion” as 2 (medium).

Calculating the Risk Priority Number (RPN)

The Risk Priority Number (RPN) is derived by multiplying severity, likelihood, and detectability:


For instance, let’s calculate the RPN for “Structural collapse” under “Structural Integrity.” Assuming S = 4, L = 1, and D = 2:


Enhancing the Table with RPN Calculation

The table below has been updated with the calculated Severity, Likelihood, Detectability, and RPN values for each potential failure:


By employing this meticulous calculation and organization, Robinson Crusoe effectively prioritized his efforts and resources, ensuring a resilient and reliable survival boat

Step 4: Prioritizing Risks and Crafting Ingenious Island-Based Controls

Robinson Crusoe’s unwavering quest for a resilient survival boat entailed meticulous risk categorization based on their Risk Priority Numbers (RPNs). This strategic approach facilitated targeted resource allocation, enabling precise handling of critical risks. RPNs were stratified into three tiers, guiding their urgency:

• High Priority (RPN > 40): Demanding immediate and decisive action.

• Moderate Priority (20 < RPN ≤ 40): Requiring thoughtful attention and effective intervention.

• Low Priority (RPN ≤ 20): Necessitating regular monitoring and assessment.

Robinson’s innate resourcefulness swiftly identified risks with RPNs exceeding 20 as intolerable threats. To counter these risks, he ingeniously devised island-specific controls, seamlessly integrating his environment. These controls encompassed ingenious boat design and construction adjustments, calibrated to either diminish likelihood or amplify the detectability of potential failures. Acknowledging the immutable severity, Robinson’s focus on modifying likelihood and detectability stood as a robust defense against overall risk.

Robinson’s inventive approach to controls drew from the abundant island resources at his disposal. He astutely leveraged his surroundings to address risks. For instance, if a high likelihood of a specific failure emerged, Robinson adroitly designed boat elements using locally-sourced, resilient materials, reducing the probability of that failure. Conversely, if inadequate detectability was a challenge, he conceived innovative modifications to bolster inspection points, ensuring timely identification of potential issues.

The ensuing table encapsulates Robinson Crusoe’s island-honed risk management strategy. It showcases initial Severity, Likelihood, Detectability, and RPN values. Moreover, it highlights Robinson’s ingenious island-adapted controls, recalibrated Likelihood and Detectability values (which might go up or down based on the control), and meticulously revised RPN values for each potential failure:


Robinson Crusoe’s ingenious manipulation of island-adapted controls, coupled with the recalibrated parameters, underscores his sagacity in navigating risks within his unique island milieu. His thoughtful approach fortifies the survival boat project, transforming it into a robust and ingenious testament to island-based ingenuity.

Closing: A Legacy of Island-Borne Wisdom and Modern Paradigms

Robinson Crusoe’s remarkable story, blending unwavering determination and creative problem-solving, highlights the effectiveness of a prioritized approach to managing risks. Using a method called Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), Robinson carefully identified, assessed, and controlled potential dangers. He skillfully built a survival boat that defied the odds, showing his commitment to reducing risks. This not only led to the success of his boat project but also his eventual victory over the challenging island conditions.

Even in today’s modern industries, Robinson’s imaginary survival strategies still hold value. While the core idea of prioritizing risks remains the same, the tools available to us have greatly improved. With digital technology, we now have advanced FMEA systems that provide clear insights from planning to execution. In addition, embedded analytics give us real-time information to make better decisions and speed up risk reduction efforts.

Reflecting on Robinson’s journey from a deserted island to triumph, we find inspiration in his determination and smart risk management. In our current world, we use cutting-edge technology to navigate complex challenges, guided by FMEA principles. Just as Robinson overcame his island obstacles, we, armed with modern tools, embark on a journey of innovation and resilience, aiming for a future filled with successful achievements.


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